A forest fire near Preah Vihear temple on Sunday caused a military weapons depot containing rifle ammunition and old ordnance to explode, startling Thai soldiers and tourists but causing no injuries, officials said on Monday.
The fire that spread to the wooden storage shed in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district started at about 2 p.m. and was extinguished about three hours later, according to Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) officers stationed near the temple, who said several B-40 and 60-mm mortar shells exploded in the blaze, along with ammunition for AK-47 assault rifles and other guns.
“We could not put out the fire because some UXO exploded as it burned, so we let it calm down on its own,” said Srey Doek, commander of RCAF’s local Division 3, conceding that his unit also did not have access to water that could have been used to extinguish the flames sooner.
Lieutenant General Doek added that when the munitions exploded, tourists scattered in panic while Thai soldiers ducked into their trenches, mistaking the ruckus for a resumption of the border hostilities that have plagued the area.
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