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Factory blaze caused by an ‘electrical fault’

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The burned out factory in Steung Meanchey commune, Meanchey district. Yousos Apdoulrashim

Factory blaze caused by an ‘electrical fault’

Authorities released a report on Tuesday stating that an electrical fault was the cause of the inferno which swept through the Heng Heng Mattress Factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district at 1.20pm on August 23.

“The factory which caught on fire produced handmade mattresses, which required a lot of flammable substances such as plastic, glue, aviation fuel, foam and fabric.

“These substances burned easily and quickly, producing heat, flames and smoke which contained toxic substances,” the report said, concluding that the cause of the flame was an “electrical fault”.

On Sunday, a shopkeeper near the site of the fire told The Post under the condition of anonymity that factory workers had told him the fire was caused by malfunctioning machinery.

This, he claimed, had spread and caused the building’s electrical system to malfunction and catch fire, adding his belief that the authorities would likely seek the simplest explanation for the blaze.

Several residents who live on the same street as the factory – some for decades – said several small fires had broken out on the same grounds in the years leading to the event.

On at least one occasion, the factory director had to use foam to extinguish the flames, according to one resident. In the end, it took over 200 police officials three days and 45 fire engines to put out the fire.

The National Police’s Department of Fire Prevention, Extinguishing and Rescue said officials had to face several challenges when fighting the flames.

At the west end of the facilities – where the charred skeleton of residential quarters stood before being demolished – was a dead end. Roads leading to the factory were too narrow for fire fighting vehicles to enter.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The bill for the blaze could reach $3.3 million. Heng Chivoan

There weren’t enough hydro trucks in the city to fuel firefighters who only had one fire engine with a ladder at their disposal. And this wasn’t enough to tackle the blaze that destroyed two buildings between four and six storeys tall.

When hydro trucks ran out of water, they had to drive to separate trucks which had water in them – then turn around and reenter the scene through the narrow roads.

Strong heat made it difficult for the authorities and fire engines to get closer to the building and prevent the flames from spreading to neighbouring structures, the report said.

Phnom Penh municipal police chief Sar Thet said after joint forces had successfully managed to extinguish the fire, it was up to the National Committee for Disaster Management to clear the burned building.

“We went to investigate the cause of the fire, regarding the damage – National Committee for Disaster Management continues to study it further to make [the cause] clearer, ”said Sar Thet.

The Committee’s spokesman Keo Vy said the building contained seven mattress-cutting machines, a mattress-knitting machine and 18 sewing machines. “In total, the damage has been estimated at $3.3 million,” said Vy.

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