A fire destroyed nine single-room dwellings in an apartment building behind the Java Cafe and Gallery on Sihanouk Boulevard late on Thursday night, causing roof collapses and leaving dozens homeless.
The source of the fire, which started around midnight, reportedly from a first-floor residential apartment, is yet to be determined. Nobody was injured in the blaze.
Dana Langlois, the American owner of Java Cafe, which was left untouched by the late-night blaze, said that her office in the affected building was gutted by the fire. Along with accounting records and thousands of dollars worth of stock ruined, the fire also wrecked paintings by local artists recently moved to the office room for storage.
“But we really are not the major victims here. We can recover. It’s most devastating for the families. They’ve lost their homes and they have nothing,” she said yesterday.
Around her, people collected charred remains in plastic bags. Two men lugged away a blackened work-desk. Atop the desk lay a charred wedding album. The ground was littered with half-burnt slippers.
Chhorn Channa, 43, a school teacher who lived on the ground floor of the cramped apartment block with her sister and husband, was sleeping when the fire came.
“At first I woke up because I heard people screaming: ‘The house is on fire! The house is on fire!’”
Frantically, she rushed to shut off the house’s electricity supply. She then managed to save only two things: the motorbike and the television.
The firemen came about a half hour later, she said.“Because I was [so frantic], it felt like a long time,” she said.
Due to the layout of the apartment building, located down a small alley behind the Java Cafe, Langlois said that firemen had to spray one part of the blaze out of a first-story window from the affected building.
“I don’t even know how they got the hose up there,” she said.
In one of the only rooms unaffected by the fire, a mom-and-pop tailor shop located on the ground floor on the other side of the building from where the fire reportedly started, an extended family of eight sat in chairs and snacked on fruit.
Langlois said that they had heard from neighbours that it was a cooking fire that caused the blaze.
She said that a fundraising project that would benefit families affected in the fire would be launched from the Java Cafe Facebook page.
“I figure at least one of the advantages of being located next to a popular cafe [for these families] is that they should be able to get some support from its customers,” she said.
Roughly 12 hours after the fire started, the Cambodian Red Cross arrived with sacks of rice, water and bagged snacks and a group of monks blessed the victims.