Over 20 market stalls at Talat Khed Mor Xor, the National University of Laos’ student market, were destroyed in a massive fire which broke out on Tuesday night, the cause of which remains unknown.
Witnesses said the fire started at about 8.30pm after most of the stalls were closed, but there were still some food and clothing stalls still open at the time.
Bystanders told Vientiane Times reporters that they were eating dinner with friends when they noticed that the lights dimmed in an electrical brown-out before smelling burning plastic a short time later.
“I thought someone was burning garbage at the rear of the market but that wasn’t the case. Some people went to see what was happening and didn’t notice anything and returned to eating their dinner,” one witness said.
Not more than 15 minutes later, the market suddenly burst into flames and became a raging inferno. Bystanders tried to fight the fire with buckets of water and fire extinguishers but to no avail — it was already out of control.
“Most people started running away from the scene, but some people stayed on valiantly to try and fight the fire,” the witness said.
He explained that the burning stalls were already closed so it was difficult for bystanders to get access, saying that it started in the fourth and fifth stalls in the middle of the one storage building.
In a last ditch effort, they decided to break into the first room of the building, spraying water and fire extinguishers in a bid to keep the fire under control but by then it was too late.
Another witness said she was closing her food stall and heard some people yelling “Fire! fire!” When she looked over, there were red flames leaping from the stalls about 15 metres from her own. She dropped what she was carrying and ran to safety.
A firefighter from the fire department said there hadn’t been a big fire like this in the area for a long time. However, they were able to eventually bring the blaze under control and prevent it from engulfing all the market stalls.
He thanked the people who stayed to fight the fire, saying that although they couldn’t stop it spreading, they had stalled it long enough for the fire brigade to get there and deploy their fire fighting equipment.
About 24 of the 100 odd stalls were destroyed. The blaze ripped through the left side of the complex and some stalls in the front of the market but the central area where the food stalls were situated were unaffected.
The damage bill is yet to be calculated and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Source: Vientiane Times
May 23, 2013