LOCAL officials said Wednesday that they believed an electrical fire in the wooden home of a resident of Tuol Kork district’s Boeung Kak 2 commune was the source of a blaze that destroyed dozens of dwellings and left hundreds homeless on Monday evening.
Commune officials say Monday’s fire destroyed 178 homes and 31 dormitory rooms, and that while no one was hurt, 257 families, 181 students and 90 monks were left homeless as a result.
Van Sareth, the Boeung Kak 2 commune chief, said that after studying the site of the fire and speaking with local residents, authorities had concluded that the flames had spread from the home of 66-year-old Phoeun Phou, who has apparently fled the community.
“Based on our interviews of the affected families and our investigations at the site, we understood that this was an electrical fire,” Van Sareth said. “We could not find [Phoeun Phou] or his family, but they might have left because they were afraid of revenge after the fire spread from their home.”
Local officials and representatives of the Cambodian Red Cross have been distributing food, water and tents this week to commune residents who remain at the site. As the community is reconstructed, Tuol Kork district governor Seng Ratanak said it must be designed with an eye to preventing a repeat of Monday’s inferno.
While some residents claimed that firefighters were slow to put out the blaze, Seng Ratanak said the firefighters had been hindered by the community’s narrow streets, which prevented them from accessing parts of the neighbourhood with their hoses. Narrow streets also proved a burden for firefighters called to combat a November fire that destroyed 243 homes in Russey Keo district’s Chraing Chamres 2 commune.
“Currently, we have no plan to develop this area, but we will not allow them to rebuild a slum here,” Seng Ratanak said, adding that he was planning a trip with community representatives to view plots of land in Dangkor district and in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, where they could potentially be relocated.
However, Kong Keang, 48, said he believed he and the other residents would be pushed out in favour of commercial interests.
“This is just the plan of the authorities who want to evict us to another area,” he said. “We are hopeless about finding homes at the new site.”