Nearly 40 hectares of a forest and plantation were destroyed by fire in Siem Reap and Battambang provinces last week despite an Agriculture Ministry directive to ensure preventive measures during the dry season.
Tea Kimsoth, Siem Reap provincial agriculture department chief, said yesterday that 20 hectares of forest in Banteay Srei district’s Khun Ream commune were destroyed on Tuesday due to land clearing activities and authorities are now looking for suspects.
He said that most of the trees were of the luxury wood variety and the authorities took five hours to extinguish the blaze, preventing it from spreading to nearby plantations and houses.
“We suspect that the fire was caused by people using the slash and burn method to clear the forest area and they fled when they could not control the blaze,” he said. “During the dry season, fires can easily get out of control and we are sorry to see that 20 hectares of the forest has been destroyed,” he added.
Mr Kimsoth said provincial authorities plan to replant trees at the scorched area soon.
In Battambang province, a blaze destroyed 13 hectares of a plantation in Ratanak Mondul district’s Sao commune on Thursday.
Commune chief Poch Pheang said yesterday the blaze began at about 1pm and was extinguished at about 4pm.
“Until now, we do not know what caused the fire and the authorities are cooperating with the owner of the longan plantation to find the reason,” he said. “The blaze spread fast and was difficult to put out but the authorities and villagers managed to extinguish it within four hours.”
On January 16, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said fires remain a serious threat to forest resource and wetlands, adding that they have also destroyed rice crops and villagers’ homes.
He said forest fires cause widespread destruction and affects society, the economy, natural resources and environment.
Mr Sakhon said relevant authorities, including the environment ministry, must jointly prevent people from using fires to catch bees and wild animals or clear grass and forest lands for hunting or farming.
“People can only use fire to burn forest wastes for farming purpose after they inform the authorities and get permission to do so following regulations,” he said.
Mr Sakhon also ordered authorities to take legal action against anyone who illegally clears forest land, burns forest resources or commits any prohibited activities in protected areas.