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Around The Sun: Just Another Fire

Steve Harrison tells of another risk to life and limb while running a hotel in Cambodia.

Itís simply common sense. If youíre an electrician wear rubber soled shoes such as flip flops. Itís not rocket science. Just get some solid insulation between you and the ground.

Our hotel set on fire at least three times because of electrical faults. There may have been other times which I did not hear about. To inspect our electrical system was to open a Pandora's box. It was a hopeless jumble of wires going every which way. Bare wires hung out of walls. It was anybody's guess as to whether they were live or not.

During the first two weeks of our tenancy we were plunged into utter darkness and there was the unmistakable smell of burning. The bar was packed and people were drinking with abandon when the blackout occurred. I ran into the reception area, opened the door to the electrical cupboard, and was almost choked by fumes and smoke. Following an emergency phone call our friendly neighborhood electrician turned up within minutes.

We lit the place with candles and torches. It was clear that one of the main cables had overheated, burned through and become detached from the fuse box. This had set fire to other cables. I looked on in despair, thinking it would be a long time before the normal power supply was restored.

It was perfectly obvious that the darkness was a repeat performance. Burn marks and disconnected wires confirmed that the same thing had happened again and again.

Our electrician was immediately on the job. He had insulated pliers, an insulated screwdriver, a knife and of course those rubber soled flip flops. In no time he had cleaned the electrical wire (still very much alive and as thick as your thumb), smashed a hole through a plaster wall into goodness knows where, produced another load-bearing cable, cleaned that back through the insulation and attached it to the piece which had burned out.

All this was done without turning off the main switch.

The lights came back on. The music was restored. Customer continueed to happily drink and talk.

Next day I inspected the electrical room. It was one of the scariest sights you could ever see. There seemed to be the potential for the hotel to burn down in a heartbeat. But who was I to interfere with Cambodian ingenuity.

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