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Neighborhood blaze, Stung Meanchey, Phnom Penh | July 28, 2014

In a city of collapsing districts and minimal building regulation, an all-too common tragedy
In the mid-morning hours of July 28th, a stray electric spark escaped. By 1:30PM, the neighborhood was gone.

An electrical fire claimed another derelict neighborhood today, this time in Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey commune. The fire tore through the slum, a congested sprawl of haphazard wood-frame structures, and home to many low-wage factory workers. An estimated thirty-five homes were consumed in just under two hours. 


While fire crews struggled to navigate the neighborhood's narrow streets, a desperate local effort fought to contain the blaze. Nearby factories emptied, as laborers joined motorbike drivers and monks stripped to the waist to pull trapped residents to safety and douse the flames with runoff water collecting in the streets. Workers from Pour Un Sourire d’Enfant, many residents of the neighborhood themselves, to help reunite separated families and comfort distraught mothers, whose children were last seen playing in the alleys.

It took the concerted effort of local volunteers and 27 fire trucks to suppress the blaze, but the neighborhood was completely razed. Many families, already among the poorest and most vulnerable in the district, were rendered homeless and lost all of their possessions. Some residents received temporary shelter on an unoccupied plot of land nearby, no plans for permanent resettlement or rebuilding have emerged.


According to the Director of the municipal fire department, Net Vantha, the fire was Phnom Penh's 49th of the year so far. Similar fires have already claimed three fatalities and three injuries, as well as the loss of at least 79 homes so far this year. The residents of this Stung Meanchey neighborhood was fortunate in that no fatalities or injuries were recorded - and all of the neighborhood children were ultimately located. Yet house fires represent a major ongoing threat in Phnom Penh, where ramshackle neighborhoods continue to spring up with little in the way of supervision or health and safety cautions. Read more here.

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