Malfunctioning Pump Causes River Blaze

A malfunctioning water pump in a boat loaded with diesel fuel caused a spectacular fire Thurs­day, burning more than 10,000 liters of the fuel on the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh and leaving one man injured.

Boat owner Heng Ly, 47, was burned as he tried to extinguish the boat. Unable to squelch the blaze, he jumped into the river and swam to safety.

The fire broke out around     9:20 am Thursday in Samaki village of Russei Keo commune, just north of the city, authorities on the scene said.

Firefighters with five fire trucks fought the blaze for more than two hours, bringing the flames under control around 11 am after a Royal Cambodian Navy police boat towed the burning hulk to the river bank.

But firefighters could not extinguish the fire completely and had to let the boat burn to cinders on the river bank, police said.

The boat was used to cart around diesel fuel to small wooden boat operators along the area’s riverways.

The fire belched bright orange flames and a huge plume of black smoke that towered into the skies, wreaking havoc for the hundreds of squatters living along the river bank as authorities fought to keep the flames from burning down the small squatter village nearby.

Had the fuel been gasoline, it would have spread, authorities on the scene said. Diesel is heavier and emits a flame that is easier to control, officials said. Most of the fuel also stayed aboard the boat, preventing an environmental disaster, officials said.

Heng Ly’s injuries were not serious and he is expected to recover, officials on the scene said. There was no word Thursday afternoon on the cost of the blaze.


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