A fire that began early Tuesday evening and burned until noon Wednesday, ravaging one of Cambodia’s largest garment factories, is suspected of being electrical in origin, said Neth Vantha, Phnom Penh Municipal firefighter police chief.
Strong winds and plentiful fabric at the Suntex factory complex in Dangkao district fueled the fire, which took 24 trucks, 150 truckloads of water and 120 police officers to extinguish, Neth Vanda said. Four buildings sustained heavy damage, with the roof of one collapsing, but no one was hurt, he added.
“I assume this happened because of an electrical fault,” Neth Vantha said, adding that this initial conclusion was based on interviews with factory security guards.
Khlok Kandara, a finishing supervisor at Suntex, said he and a group of security guards were among the first to notice that the fire had started in a locked building.
Khlok Kandara said he suspected the fire was electrical in origin because “usually we have electrical problems like that…. Before the Water Festival there was also a problem, but in another area. But that area doesn’t have fabric, so I put out the fire myself.”
He added that the factory owner was not informed of the earlier fire.
The factory employs about 2,000 workers, down from about 4,000 in September of last year, said Albert Tan, regional vice president of Ocean Sky, a Singaporean firm that owns Suntex and the adjacent Bright Sky garment factory.
“We informed our workers not to worry, that we will make arrangements for them,” he said. “We told them to come back after Khmer New Year.”
Tan said he thinks the company can temporarily transfer the workers to Bright Sky, where about 3,000 people are already employed, by running two shifts there instead of one.
Of the seven buildings at Suntex, only one escaped damage in the fire, Tan said. All six involved in production were at least partly damaged, and four were rendered almost completely useless, he said, adding that he doesn’t know the cost of the damage.
“We are waiting for the insurance to come to assess the damage,” he said. Rebuilding, he added, could take about six months.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, praised the authorities for stopping the fire from spreading to other nearby factories but also asked the government to “enhance their structure and ability to respond quickly to such fires so that in the future such situations can be controlled quickly.”
Neth Vantha said firefighters first reached the factory about an hour after the fire started.