A fire that gutted at least 19 Phnom Penh houses and a guest house near Boeung Kak lake might have been started by a girl who put too much kerosene on her family’s cooking wood, witnesses said Tuesday.
The fire, which started around 11 am, damaged 30 wooden homes, destroying 19 of them, in a squatter area known as Village 6 in Daun Penh district, district Governor Sou Rendy said. Also destroyed was the Freedom Cafe and Lodge, which burned to the ground. Witnesses said a 6-year-old girl, mistaking her mother’s instructions, dumped a liter of kerosene on the family’s rice-cooking fire, setting their wooden house ablaze. The fire spread quickly, eating its way through the other wooden shacks.
Sou Rendy disputed those accounts, saying the fire started because of faulty electrical wiring. The cause is under investigation.
No one was reported killed, but many of the fire victims were devastated. “Now I have nothing,” said 18-year-old Kol Leak, who lost her home. Firefighters had trouble reaching the blaze because of the village’s narrow roads, firefighter Oum Chantha said.
“The houses went up—woof, woof, woof—like dominoes,” Freedom Cafe and Lodge owner Brian Johnston said, standing shirtless in a thick rain of ash as crowds of people rushed down the streets away from the fire, many weeping as they carried televisions or other valuables.
Among those left homeless by the fire were five teachers from the nearby Wat Koh and Kolap schools, Village 6 Chief Chang Savath said.
Fire officials said they filled six snorkel trucks at least twice to combat the blaze.
Johnston, a native of Scotland who has owned the cafe for many years, said firefighters were lackadaisical in responding to the fire.
“They’re not really worried. It’s a [squatters village], and they’re trying to get rid of them, anyway,” he said.
The cafe does not have insurance, and probably will not rebuild, Johnston said.