Thongkhankham Market Fire Not Arson

Thongkhankham Market Fire2
The recent devastating fire at Thongkhankham market, one of the biggest markets in Vientiane, was not caused by arson motivated by any conflict of interest but by an electrical short-circuit, a high-ranking official confirmed yesterday. The March 26 fire, which damaged more than 400 shops, occurred as a result of old electrical wiring, Vice Mayor of Vientiane Mr Saythong Keodouangdy said at a press conference held at his office. He told the media the Lao World Public Company had already been granted a concession to turn the 18,000-metre market area into a six-storey shopping mall. Construction of the new shopping centre will begin on June 1 next month. It will take one year and three months to complete. Thongkhamkham market is located near the heart of Vientiane and is well-known as a fresh food market that used to sell a variety of products, including vegetables, fruits and items for religious ceremonies.The market attracted both local people and foreigners. The committee in charge estimated the fire had caused about 110 billion kip of damage.

Mr Saythong said the Government had leased the area to the owners of the market since 1988 but the contract would end on December 31 this year.He said old electrical wiring in the market, especially from Ms Tou’s shop, was a major cause of the fire. Even though the firefighting department is located about 100 metres from the market they struggled to control the fire.“The firefighters could not bring the fire under control because some objects, including fireworks and gas, catch fire very easily,” Mr Saythong said. A firefighter was almost able to put the fire out as it spread to the third shop, but was hit hard by an explosion caused by some gas catching fire.

Mr Saythong said some shop owners were selling items that were not allowed, especially fireworks, which made it harder to stop the fire. The committee in charge will do more investigations to determine who was violating the rules governing what can be sold. They will also question the previous owner on maintenance activities that affected the merchants. Many sellers have lost their livelihoods as many spent large amounts of money buying products in preparation for the sales rush that occurs in the lead-up to Lao New Year. Those goods were then destroyed in the blaze. Some sellers have continued to sell their products around the area.

Mr Saythong urged the sellers to move to a temporary market located near Lao-ITECC.He said sellers could come and book areas to set up their shops at Lao-ITECC without paying any fees.He said once the new shopping centre at the former site of Thongkhankham market was complete, the old merchants who lost their stalls in the fire would be given priority for space in the complex and have their fees reduced by 30 percent.

Thongkhankham Market Fire

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Vientiane Times, Vientiane Mai
16 May, 2014
Photo: Xinhua