A massive fire killed two people, one of them a child, and destroyed at least 220 market stalls in Mondulkiri’s provincial capital of Sen Monorom town early on Saturday.
Ouk Samnang, provincial police chief in Mondulkiri, said that the two victims had been trapped inside the market. “The roof broke down and that’s why they couldn’t escape from their home,” he said. “We are searching for the cause of the fire.”
He said some had claimed that there was an electric malfunction that caused the fire, but police “are working on it and will report later”.
According to the official Facebook page of the Mondulkiri provincial administration, the two victims who died were 24-year-old Seng Pou and 13-year-old Touch Navith.
Richard Mastrandrea, an American who lives in Sen Monorom and witnessed the fire, said it started early in the morning.
“We woke up and somebody was yelling outside on the street at about 2:30, so we went to have a look at what was happening,” he said. “Then we could see the whole sky was orange with the fire.”
He said the fire spread quickly because many buildings were wooden and there was no road inside the market for trucks to carry in water. “So it quickly spread, shop after shop, house after house,” he said, estimating that about 60 to 80 percent of the market was burned to the ground, and adding that many families who lived in their stalls were now homeless.
“Many people were going through what was left of their houses, trying to find anything that they could salvage,” he said. “Everything was burned up in the fire.”
In a separate incident, 42-year old Hang Hov and her two children – Chan Sreynut, 13, ad Chan Lita, 7 – died in a fire on Friday in Oddar Meanchey province’s Trapaing Prasat district when their house caught on fire.
Un Rim, O’Svay commune police chief, said experts concluded the blaze was caused by an “electric malfunction”.
However, husband Chan Sarum, a 48-year-old military official, said he suspected foul play and demanded authorities to investigate.
“I think that this was murder, that someone robbed and killed my wife and children and burnt my house down in order to mislead the authorities,” he said, “because normally, if a fire happens, people will run out of the room in order to find the way out . . . but the bodies of my wife and children were found lying dead next to and on each other in one room.”
Sarum added that he wasn’t home that night because he was stationed in Phnom Tathav in Preah Vihear province.
Buth Savuth, Trapaing Prasat district Military Police commander, said authorities did not see any signs of crime at first. “But following the husband’s request, we will investigate this case,” he said.