Police, Farmers Battle Blazes in Dry Rice Fields

About 1,000 farmers and policemen were trying to extinguish a fire that consumed nearly 200 hectares of rice paddy fields in Ban­teay Meanchey province’s O’Chrou district on Tuesday, ad­ding to a recent spate of fires that have hit Cambodia’s drought-stricken countryside.

Banteay Meanchey Governor Heng Chantha said two fire trucks were deployed to put out the blaze, which began in the af­ternoon in Samroang commune. By Tuesday evening, they were still fighting the flames.

Earlier Tuesday, two fires erupted in the province’s Serei Sophoan and Svay Chek districts, though the damage caused by those fires was minor, Heng Chantha said.

Provincial officials have estimated at least 1,000 tons of rice paddy have been destroyed in separate fires throughout Ban­teay Mean­chey over the past week.

“The reason why the fires are occurring now is because the people are negligent and the rice fields are very dry,” Heng Chan­tha said, adding that the blaze in Samroang commune Tuesday appeared to have ignited when a farmer threw his cigarette butt into a parched field.

Nhim Vanda, first vice-president for the National Disaster Management Committee, said field fires have also been reported in Battambang, Kompong Cham and Prey Veng provinces, damaging an estimated 1,000 hectares of rice paddy, or about 10,000 tons of rice.

Nhim Vanda said the rice fields are abnormally dry this year due to a nationwide drought.

“It is unusual this year that fires have spread all over the place. In previous years, during the harvest season, there was some unseasonal rain. But this year, no rain,” Nhim Vanda said.

“The surface [of the fields] is not damp as usual, so the rice plants fall down and become like hay. It is easy to catch fire,” he said.

Farmers are also to blame for cooking while they work among the arid fields, he added.

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