A fire caused by a smoke machine tore through a nightclub in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Monday night and killed five people, according to officials, the second deadly blaze at the establishment in less than two years.
Two employees and three teenage patrons died when the blaze engulfed the Key Club in Chak Angre Krom commune shortly after 8 p.m. on Monday, according to commune police chief Mao Sivorn.
“The fire started because of a short circuit in a machine that was spraying smoke from the wall into the middle of the club,” he said. “The fire spread quickly because the club was full of flammable material.”
Mr. Sivorn said the fire started at the end of a hallway that leads to the club’s entrance and quickly filled the building with smoke, making it nearly impossible to find the only other exit.
“The victims died because there was no oxygen inside the club. They panicked and they could not find the exit,” he said.
The police chief named the dead as Ros Thavry, 28, and Hok Sokleang, 44, who worked as waitresses at the club, and Sao Mesa, 18; Sam Sreysros, 17; and Ke Liya, 16, three female friends who had gone there together.
Two security guards—Dy Lida, 32, and Khom Channuth, 25—suffered severe burns to the majority of their bodies and are being treated at Calmette Hospital, Mr. Sivorn said, adding that the number of fatalities could have been much higher had the fire started later in the night, when the club was busier.
Standing behind the scorched bar Tuesday, Chea Sophea, another security guard, described how he attempted to help the three teenagers before escaping himself.
“They were scared and they did not listen to me, they just ran to find an exit,” he said. “I was struggling to breathe and I crawled along the ground and escaped through the front entrance.”
Prum Yorn, chief of the municipal fire department, said 22 trucks had battled to contain the blaze.
“The club should have many exits, and there should be a channel for smoke to escape,” he said.
In November 2013, a fire killed three people at the Key Club—including one of its owners—when sparks from a laborer welding bars together ignited. At the time, authorities said a lack of exits was to blame for the deaths.
Meanchey district governor Dy Roth Khemarun said Tuesday that the club, which was gutted by Monday night’s fire, would not be allowed to reopen.
“This club will be completely closed down,” he said.
Mr. Roth Khemarun said the National Social Security Fund would cover funeral costs for all five victims, and urged their families to make formal complaints against the club’s owners.
“We will process the complaints quickly and forward them to the deputy prosecutor [at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court] in order to get compensation for the victims’ families,” he said.
Both Mr. Roth Khemarun and Mr. Sivorn, the commune police chief, said they did not know the identities of the club’s owners, but that authorities were seeking to identify and prosecute them.