Four Cambodians and an Australian national were killed Tuesday in an apparent electrical fire that consumed a popular nightclub in Siem Reap City, yet again raising concerns about the disregard for fire safety standards in Cambodia.
The deadly blaze started in the ceiling of the windowless Hip Hop Restaurant & Discotheque at about 2:50 a.m. and spread quickly, killing three Cambodian women, a Cambodian man and an Australian man, said Thorng Sakun, deputy Siem Reap provincial police chief.
Two Cambodian women were also seriously injured, he said.
Mr. Sakun named the Australian as Tom Anthony Ricketson, 32, and identified two of the four Cambodian victims as Prum Phiron, 31, and Cheng Savien, 33.
“We’ve handed over the bodies of the four [Cambodian] victims to their families, but the Australian citizen’s body has been sent to the Siem Reap provincial hospital’s morgue and a report has been sent to the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Mr. Sakun said the likely cause of the fire was a short circuit.
“The fire started in the ceiling of the club, where there was a short circuit, according to our investigators and the electricity experts [that the police hired],” he said.
So Platong, deputy governor of Siem Reap City, said that as of Tuesday evening, authorities had yet to speak with the nightclub’s owner, Lee Meng Srin, but that an investigation was ongoing.
A video of the fire posted to YouTube, shot from outside the building, shows flames jetting from the nightclub’s roof. After about two minutes, the video cuts to a close-up of authorities carrying charred bodies and laying them on the ground in front of a crowd.
Tom Ricketson’s uncle, Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, said Tuesday that his nephew was on holiday in Cambodia and was considering moving here to help the country’s poor.
“He is a very kindhearted, generous and sweet man who worked with intellectually handicapped people in Australia. He was with me in Phnom Penh two weeks ago and came with me to a dump site to give food to poor people in Phnom Penh,” he said.
“He was so affected and moved by these poor people that he was talking about coming to Cambodia to help poor Cambodians.”
Tuesday’s fire comes about two years after a fire ripped through Siem Reap’s Night Market and killed eight people, and more than a year after the National Assembly passed a fire prevention law.
Siem Reap City police chief Tith Narong on Tuesday said the Hip Hop club had no windows and only one exit, hindering escape, and that there were too many electrical wires on the ceiling.
“We order owners to obey our fire safety standards, but they do not listen because they have money,” he said. “If they have money, they can do anything.”
Mr. Narong said firefighters battled Tuesday’s blaze until about 5 a.m.
Steve Morrish, the managing director of Azisafe, a safety and security consultancy based in Phnom Penh, said Tuesday’s fire once again exposed the country’s weak fire safety standards.
“There are very poor standards in terms of risk management and fire safety. People can put anyone in any building. It is a big problem and it needs to be addressed,” he said.
“Tourists assume if you go to a venue, that it has proper safety measures in place,” he said. “The majority of tourists come from developed countries…and when they come here they automatically assume it is the same, but they find out otherwise.”
© 2014, Saing Soenthrith. All rights reserved.