Specialists from Battambang province’s Forestry Administration, along with Samlot district authorities, are conducting a joint search for arsonists responsible for the recent forest fire in the Dos Kramom mountain area located in Ta Sanh commune.
The suspects are presumed to have secretly burned the forest to either hunt for wild animals or grab state land for private ownership.
Provincial Forestry Administration director Pit Phireak told The Post on Wednesday that although fires in the area happen each year, the latest episode was bigger than in previous years as it had spread to the mountain.
“We have yet to figure out the cause of the forest fire. But such fires in Cambodia are generally started by people who do so to catch wild animals or clear the land and grab it.
“Some are also caused by cigarette butts thrown carelessly in the forests. Our officials are now collaborating with local authorities to search for those who burnt the land,” he said.
Commune resident Chuon Chanthorn, 36, told The Post on Wednesday that before the fire spread to nearby forests, a smoke plume was seen rising from the western side of the mountain.
However, no one thought it would spread to near the villagers’ homes.
“The villagers and authorities saw the plumes of smoke rising from the western part of the forest at 10am. The blaze was seen spreading later on at 3pm but the authorities didn’t take immediate action to put it out or contain it.
“It was only when the fire had burnt some parts of the forest and almost spread to Samlot district hall that the police started spraying water to extinguish it,” said Chanthorn.
The district police chief in charge of fire prevention, Rin Charya, told The Post that due to the brushwood covering the western part of the mountain, access to the area was difficult.
His forces could not mobilise fire engines to enter the site and extinguish the blaze. Three fire engines were later mobilised to enter from the eastern side of the mountain. Water was sprayed to prevent the flame from spreading to villagers’ homes and the district administrative hall.
“Forest land in the Dos Kramom mountain area was estimated at 10ha. The forest fire just burnt dead grass and some small trees.
“Even though there was no way of entering the western side, our working group was able to put it out and prevent it from spreading to the residential area. No one was harmed during the fire,” he said.
Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation director Kong Mony Chan said fires in the district occurs every year, thus contributing to the poor growth of plants and lack of a safe habitat for the wild animals.
Nevertheless, he said the western part of the forest is mostly covered in brushwood, which easily grows back during the rainy season.
Article 97 of the Forestry Law says that any person found guilty of starting forest fires on purpose and without authorisation will face five to 10 years’ imprisonment.