The cause of a fire that destroyed more than 30 houses on Tuesday in a small slum inhabited by recycling collectors, in an area surrounded by new housing developments in southern Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, will likely be determined today, according to officials.
Residents, some in tears, were scavenging through the ruins of their former houses as nine remaining fire trucks and two water tankers departed at about 3:45 p.m. on Tuesday, leaving some small fires still burning.
Deputy district governor Dy Roth Khemarun, who visited the site on Tuesday, said the fire started at about 2 p.m. and had destroyed 33 homes before firefighters brought it under control. He said he was unsure of the fire’s cause or the cost of the damages.
Prum Yorn, chief of the Phnom Penh fire department, also said the cause of the fire was unknown, but that investigators should have answers by today.
“I suspect the fire started from an electrical short circuit, or some people burning scrap to scavenge metal,” he said by telephone.
The 70-by-50 meter plot of land in Boeng Tompun commune’s Tnaot Chhrum III village is bordered on three sides either by new apartment blocks and rows of townhouses, or land earmarked for such developments. Residents living near the site decried the area’s crime and drug use, and said they hoped the site would be redeveloped.
“No one liked having those people here—it was too messy and dangerous,” said Chet Sekleng, 70, standing outside his small grocery store near the smoldering ruins.
Across from his property, a former pond had been filled in about three days ago and was poised for development, he said, although he wasn’t sure what was planned for the site.
Ku Chankoma, the son of the owner of the land on which the fire occurred said he had previously tried to remove the recyclers from the land, and wasn’t sure what would happen in the short term, or who would clean up the charred remains.
Five wooden houses on the site’s southwest corner escaped the fire, as did a concrete toilet block built by an NGO three years ago.
Resident Horn Chanda, 44, whose home was among those destroyed by the fire, said she had moved to Phnom Penh from her native Prey Veng province about eight years ago in search of work. She said an NGO, whose name she couldn’t remember, had offered a place for her family of six to live for $15 a month.
“I don’t know where we are staying tonight,” she said. “I have nothing now.”
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