A fire ripped through a Phnom Penh community early Saturday morning, destroying 47 homes and leaving only scorched wood and rubble for families returning to the city following the Khmer New Year.
Vann Saret, chief of Boeng Kak 2 commune in Tuol Kok district, suspected the fire was accidental and the result of an untended candle, kerosene lamp or incense sticks burning for the New Year.
Around 2 am on Saturday, several witnesses said, the fire started at the home of a man named Phea. They said Phea fled on a motorbike as the fire spread to surrounding homes.
Villagers said the eight firetrucks that arrived on the scene were unable to get to the community because the alleyways leading to the houses were too narrow for the trucks to enter.
Villager Khat Savuth said many residents had left the city for the weekend and weren’t around to save their belongings. When news of the fire spread, those that remained gathered their children and ran, he said. One person was reportedly injured.
Picking through the rubble that was his home Sunday, Khat Savuth said most of his belongings were destroyed and blamed his neighbor Phea, saying the man didn’t warn people before fleeing.
Vann Saret said he had been told Phea was drunk and likely fled because he was afraid of being blamed for the blaze.
“Phea ran away because he was afraid he would be held responsible for the fire that started in his house,” Vann Saret said.
Villager Chhim Im also lost all his property because he wasn’t home.
“I lost everything,” he said.
Chhim Im said the owners of the houses around the main entrance to the community should be forced to take down their fences to widen the road so firetrucks can get in next time. If they didn’t do it voluntarily, other residents would destroy the fences, he warned.
Villager Sok Khoeun, whose house was not damaged, alleged that a number of people living in flats nearby the destroyed houses paid firefighters to save their homes.
Commune Chief Vann Saret denied that any firefighters were paid or that any demanded money to put out the flames.