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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Inferno destroys 1,000 hectares of forest; wildlife in danger

Inferno destroys 1,000 hectares of forest; wildlife in danger

A weekend fire in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey still blazed

Wednesday, putting the area's flooded forests and fish refuges at risk.

FIRES have burned through more than 1,000 hectares of the Tonle Sap's flooded forests, and the inferno was still spreading, according to Chet Sameth, Ek Phnom's district police chief.

"We don't know the cause of the fire, but we suspect it was caused by people looking for honey," he said, explaining that people in the area often light fires to smoke bees out of their hives to gain access to their honeycombs.

The forest fire started in Preah Net Preah in Banteay Meanchey but spread into Ek Phnom district in Battambang on Saturday, where the fire detonated at least seven unexploded artillery shells in the forest, accelerating the fire's spread.

"It [the forest] is too dry and we had no rain for two weeks, so it is burning very fast, [and] no one can stop it," Chet Sameth said.

The fire was hitting a wilderness area that is vaunted for its biodiversity, according to Chet Sameth, and the fire was putting animals at risk.

"Turtles and snakes are easily killed by the fire. We are losing wildlife from this fire, and we are losing fish refuges," Chet Sameth said.

The area is also an important fish breeding ground, said Heng Pisith, chief of the Fisheries Administration in Battambang province.

"It affects the fish because they lose their places [to spawn]," said Heng Pisith, adding, "Every year, we always ask during the dry season on the radio for people not to burn the forest to try and prevent any big fires."

Chet Sameth said the fire damaged one house but was extinguished, and no casualties have been reported due to preventive measures taken by villagers. In Bak Prea village, people have already moved their cows and buffaloes to safer places to avoid the fire.

"Fires happen every year," he said. "Normally, they are much smaller, but this year it is a big one."

Cheam Chan Saphon, the director of Battambang's Agriculture Department, expressed his regrets and said agriculture had "nothing to do with [worsening the fire] because it is nature."

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