Fires destroy hundreds of hectares of forest in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces

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A forest fire ravages Banteay Srei district’s forests in Siem Reap province. Police

Hundreds of hectares of forest in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces have been destroyed by a fire that raged on Monday and Tuesday, according to provincial authorities.

The blaze, which authorities said was caused by human negligence, destroyed both natural forest and state-administered forest where trees had been planted over a number of years.

Oeng Vutheara, head of Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei Forestry Administration, told The Post on Wednesday that the fire razed over 200ha of forest at Trapaing Thma village in Banteay Srei district’s Khun Ream commune.

“Most of the tree species that we had planted in the area are [valuable] kranhung, thnong and kakoh. We had planted them over many years but they were destroyed in just two days,” he said.

Vutheara, who has spent years studying forest fires throughout the Kingdom, noted that such incidences are generally caused by “human behaviour” and not by natural disasters.

‘Blaze spread’

When the temperature soars during the dry season, he said, some villagers would enter the forest in search of forestry products including wild honey, tree roots and bulbs for traditional medicine. They light fires for cooking which sometimes get out of control, with blazes spreading through the forest and into nearby villages.

Vutheara said his Banteay Srei Forestry Administration and local authorities had used all means, including fire trucks, to put out the most recent forest fire and stop it spreading, using thousands of cubic metres of water.

Banteay Srei district police chief Long Samnang told The Post on Wednesday that around 3ha of forest in the Banteay Samre Temple area – which is administered by the Apsara Authority that oversees the Angkor Archaeological Park – was also ravaged by the two-day fire.

Samnang said authorities are working to identify suspects behind the blaze and will send them to court once the investigation wraps up.

In Kampong Thom, a forest fire also ravaged around 15ha of a state-administered kranhung plantation at Thma Samleang village in Santuk district’s Kraya commune.

Kraya commune chief Keo Chheng told The Post that the isolated plantation is situated far from villages and natural forest, and so was never frequented by wild honey-seeking villagers.

“We have not determined the cause of the fire. For now we can only assume that the blaze spread from other areas. It’s also possible that some people threw burning cigarette butts into the kranhung plantation, causing the grass to catch fire and spread through the plantation, which is located along a national road,” he said.

Chheng said local authorities and officials from Kraya commune’s Forestry Administration had managed to put out the blaze on Tuesday using three fire trucks and a total of 120 cubic metres of water.