Squatter Village, Guest House Devastated by Morning Fire

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.


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