By Sek Odom and Alex Consiglio
A raging fire in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district destroyed 22 homes early Wednesday morning as local villagers struggled to quell the flames and firefighters scrambled to gain access.
At about 1 a.m., an electricity line snapped and sparked the fire, Phnom Penh Fire Department bureau chief Neth Vantha said.
It quickly spread despite villagers using garden hoses, ice blocks and sticks to control it as firefighters slowly arrived on the scene in Chbar Ampov II commune.
“It was difficult to go in there because the roads are too small,” said Mr. Vantha. “We were late because people didn’t have our number… also because the local officials didn’t give any report.”
Once on the scene, at least 15 minutes into the fire, firefighters helped villagers save a neighboring pagoda from the inferno, but 22 homes and a furniture business were completely destroyed. No one was injured in the blaze.
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“We used 12 fire trucks to put out the fire because it was very strong,” said Mr. Vantha.
Kim Heang, 44, owner of the furniture shop, sifted through charred wood Wednesday afternoon, shaking his head in disbelief.
“All my wood was destroyed,” he said. “I lost a lot of money.”
Distraught villagers were collecting any salvageable belongings Wednesday afternoon, blaming drug-using youths for purposely starting the fire.
But commune chief Yin Vuth maintained the fire was caused by the electricity line snapping.
“If anyone believes the fire was started from a youngster smoking drugs, please tell us so that we can arrest them,” said Mr. Vuth.