Residents and authorities disagreed on the cause of Sunday’s blaze in a predominantly Vietnamese area of Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Monday, as officials scaled back the initial damage estimates.
Meanchey district Governor Kuoch Chamroeun said the fire, which started at about noon on Sunday, was ignited by a 12-year-old girl cooking on the bank of the Tonle Bassac in Preak Takong village, Chak Angre Leu commune.
But several residents interviewed Monday blamed the fire on an elderly woman they said was carelessly lighting incense and candles outside of a small Vietnamese pagoda. They said the woman inadvertently ignited several cans of kerosene stored in the pagoda.
Witnesses said the woman fled the scene without telling anyone about the fire, and as of Monday, none of the residents had seen or heard from her. “By the time anyone saw the fire, it was 4 meters high,” said Kim Phal, who lost all of his belongings.
Kuoch Chamroeun also said Monday that 123 homes and three factories were damaged or destroyed, leaving 156 families without shelter. Officials initially reported that the fire burned 370 homes and six factories.
The Kingland Group and San Lei Fung garment factories were damaged by the fire, and the Asia Paper factory was completely destroyed.
Despite the patches of still-burning wood and bits of floating ash, residents, many of them coughing, were already rebuilding. “We [want] to stay here because it’s easy to find a job to do,” said Lok Srey Pich, a longtime resident.