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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thousands flock to well of fire

Thousands flock to well of fire


When Nav Vanna dug a well in search of water for his dry-season rice crop, he got

just the opposite. Instead of gushing water, after 20 days of digging the well burst

into flames.

Villager Tob Yan sits next to a donation box that encourages the thousands of visitors who have traveled to Nav Vanna's fiery well to help him pay back the $300 he borrowed.

Vanna, 38, tried to put the fire out by pouring five bags of sand and water into

the well. Without success. Having begun to burn, the well just kept on burning.

"If the fire keeps going I'm afraid that my rice field will be damaged and my

life will become more difficult," Vanna said, mopping his face with the krama

from his neck. "I borrowed $300 to dig this well, and instead of water I get

fire."

Vanna said the well-diggers had sunk a pipe down 36 meters when they heard the sound

of wind rushing up. They hastily withdrew the pipe from the ground and ran away,

fearing an explosion. They were right.

That was on February 1, and since then Vanna's well, at Por Thipang village, in Svay

Prateal commune, Saang district of Kandal province some 30km south of Phnom Penh,

has burned on and on, apparently fueled by a subterranean pocket of gas. Thousands

of people from various provinces have come to see it, and Vanna has put a bamboo

fence around it and a blue tent over it to make it easier to see and to protect his

rice.

Since the fire exploded from the well, Vanna said no government officials or any

experts had come to assess the amount of gas in the ground, and people are wondering

how long it will be before the fire goes out.

"I do not believe in the superstition that this is a supernatural phenomenon,"

Vanna said.

Villager Tob Yan, 69, said that in the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era the area was a lake

and during the flood season the water would rise 30 to 40 meters. But since then

the water had receded year by year and now the lake was only two or three meters

deep in the rainy season and in the dry season people could grow rice.

Farmer Nav Vanna and the mysterious well that has kept on burning despite his attempts to put out the flames.

"I have never seen this kind of phenomenon in Cambodia," Yan said. "In

other countries I have heard it would be a volcano."

Nov Kunthea, a seller at Kraing Yov market, who visited the well fire, said it was

lucky the well had caught fire, because otherwise the ground might have got hotter

and hotter and people nearby would have been in danger of an explosion.

"I think it's gas in the ground because the flame does not have smoke and it

smells like gas," Kunthea said.

Ban Phalla, Por Thipang village chief, was of the opinion that the area around the

well also contained gas and said he had sought government intervention to assess

the problem and take measures to prevent damage.

"I have informed higher officials but so far they have not come yet," Phalla

said. "We want to know how long it will be before the fire goes out and whether

farmers can plant rice next year."

Men Den, director of the exploration and production department of the National Petroleum

Authority, said the fire was indeed the product of a gas pocket, which would have

formed from dust from hundreds of thousands of years ago dried out after diversion

of the river.

"It is very rare, but it does happen in areas near rivers, in particular the

Mekong River," Den said. "This kind of gas could not be exploited for trading

and it will extinguish within two months."

Den said the well is not dangerous as long as people don't touch the fire, and it

could not explode as it was such a small scale.

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