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Fire victims blame landlord

Fire victims blame landlord

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A man walks through charred debris after a fire destroyed dozens of houses and shops Tuol Sangke commune in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district on Monday. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

The massive fire that destroyed dozens of homes in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sangke commune on Monday was caused by the explosion of a kitchen propane tank in a rental house owned by local landlord Tea Vannara, commune authorities said yesterday.

Commune chief Soy Kosal told the Post that the conflagration had completely destroyed 52 houses and eight businesses, and damaged another 16 stores, leaving 98 families homeless.

“We are extremely regretful for this unprecedented incident,” said Kosal, adding that he himself had donated five tonnes of rice, tents and water to the affected families, as well as an undisclosed amount of money. “Though the donation is small, it is a temporary contribution to ease the ongoing difficulties of the residents,” he said.

Neth Vantha, the director of the Phnom Penh Fire Department, said that of this year’s 47 fires, Monday’s was “the most disastrous”.

“We spent three hours putting out the fire with the use of 23 fire trucks, with three or four refills of each, because it was hard for the trucks to mobilise due to the complication and narrowness of the scene,” he said.

Victims yesterday called on commune authorities to demand compensation from Tea Vannara, who owned the building where the fire began.

Kun Ratha, a 63-year-old widow and fire victim, maintained that both residents and authorities knew of the fire’s origin, and that authorities were therefore obligated to call on the landlord to negotiate for compensation.

“I am absolutely impoverished … the authorities must no doubt summon the house owner to negotiate over the cost of damage for us,” she said.

Eng Sarith, 54, said that three previous fires had broken out on Vannara’s property, but were put out in time by residents.

“The negligence of the house owner brought about the fire that caused the massive ruin of our houses and property, so the authorities must take legal measures,” he said.

Commune chief Kosal said that though Vannara had left the area, he would be called to discuss compensation next Monday at the latest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at [email protected]

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