A fire ripped through slums on the banks of the Basaac river near Monivong bridge in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district Friday, destroying more than 200 homes.
The fire started around 3:30 pm when a gas tank exploded while a woman was cooking, said the mostly Vietnamese residents in the Chbar Ampov slums. Residents, many of whom were squatters, accused the fire department of showing up late. Nobody died in the fire, witnesses and police said.
“My house burned down already,” said Cham Roeun as she stood by her daughter’s house, about 20 meters from the raging fire. “We are worried it will spread.”
Fire trucks struggled through the crowds and narrow streets surrounding the slums. At one point, a policeman fired shots into the air to try and control the more than 1,000 who had gathered on the bridge to watch the blaze.
Inside the slums, residents frantically removed all of their belongings from their houses and brought them to boats waiting in the river. A pig trapped in one of the houses squealed loudly as the fire approached.
As fire trucks worked to contain the fire from the streets, residents close to the river linked a series of pipes connected to a pump on a boat. The water came sporadically, however, and shot out from cracks in the pipes.
“The firemen just let the houses burn to clear the area,” alleged one man as he worked to hold the pipes together.
Fireman Srey Yavonn said the narrow streets made it difficult to get fire trucks to the blaze, which spanned about half a kilometer. At sunset, the fire appeared under control.
Seng Sunhak, a policeman directing the crowd, said one person was arrested for looting. Glancing at the flames leaping into the sky, he said, “The fire trucks came a little late.”