A family of four died early Thursday morning when their home in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district was engulfed in flames as they slept, a fire official said.
Prum Yorn, chief of the municipal police fire bureau, said the blaze broke out in the Phnom Penh Thmei commune house at about 4 a.m. when faulty wiring on the first floor caused a short circuit near where the family stored bottles and 30-liter containers of gasoline, which they sold during the day.
“The fire was caused by an electrical fault that spread to small gas canisters,” he said.
Mr. Yorn identified the victims as husband and wife Kim Chanrath, 36, and Sem Sophal, 35, and their daughters Reth Chan Sovandary and Reth Sok Soursdey, aged 12 and 3, respectively.
The fire chief added that his officers concluded the family had no chance to escape as the fire began near the home’s only unlocked exit, and because the first of five fire trucks arrived 15 minutes after the blaze started.
“When we tried to put out the fire, we didn’t think the victims were still in the house. If they would have had another exit door they would not have died,” Mr. Yorn said, adding that the fire spread to two adjacent houses and took two hours to extinguish.
Sem Sophal’s sister, Sem Sopha, 34, who lived next door to the victims’ house—and whose home was also damaged in the fire—said that she had heard cries for help as the flames began to spread.
“I heard people yelling and I thought it was a robbery, but then I saw my house had caught fire,” she said. “My brother-in-law tried to break through his house’s wall with a hatchet, but it didnt work.”
A door leading to a space at the back of the house rented by two garment workers was locked, she added, as the pair was away at the time of the fire.
Ms. Sopha said that by her calculations firefighters took half an hour to arrive. “If the fire trucks were not so slow to arrive they might have been rescued.”