A fire wiped out 18 hectares of forest that floods in the wet season and displaced about 600 people in Siem Reap province’s Prasat Bakong district yesterday, officials said.
Provincial Fishery Department Director Tim Savuth said that authorities believe that fire, which was still burning yesterday afternoon, was sparked by villagers fishing in the area who did not properly extinguish fires they used for cooking.
“Villagers are coming to fish near the flooded forest and they make fire to cook rice,” he said, adding that officials are searching for those who started the fire.
“The suspects have escaped,” Mr Savuth said.
Officials from the fishery department are monitoring the situation to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread, he said.
“We are afraid that when the wind blows, the fire will start again,” he added.
Kompong Phluk commune chief Nign Ny said that the 600 villagers who dismantled their houses to avoid the flames were unprepared for the blaze.
“Because of the hot weather, all the water sources had dried up,” Mr Ny said, noting that one fire truck was sent but there was no access roads to reach the blaze.
The destroyed area included a four-hectare bird sanctuary and multiple fish reserves, Mr Ny said.
“We are sad because we wanted to turn this conservation site into a ecotourism site by 2011 as a source of income for the commune,” Mr Ny said.
Prasat Bakong district Governor Phou Sam Ath said he was uncertain as to what caused the fire, but said that villagers dropping lit cigarette butts might have started it.