SINGAPORE – Hours after a fire engulfed their fourth-floor Housing Board flat in Boon Lay on Monday night (July 15), the family returned to find that little remained of their home.
The Straits Times met Mr Che Rohisyam Che Zain and his wife Madam Assirah Ekbal on Tuesday afternoon as they were scouring their ruined two-room flat at Block 191 Boon Lay Drive, searching for salvageable household items.
“Everything is gone. I was looking for my handbag which had about $800 in it but I couldn’t find it,” said Madam Assirah, 35, a housewife.
Six people were injured and about 100 residents had to be evacuated as a result of the blaze on Monday. The injured were taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.
There was not much to see on Tuesday beyond ashes and the metal frame of the mattress in the rental flat’s living room and bedroom. The fire had also spread outwards to the corridor, including to a water pipe.
Bus driver Mr Rohisyam, 37, said: “My mother just happened to be visiting us so this was very bad luck. And now I cannot go to work either.”
His mother – Madam Bebas Zakariya, 64 – was the one who discovered the fire. It had started on the mattress in the bedroom at around 10pm.
She alerted her daughter-in-law Madam Assirah, who was asleep in the living room. The flat has only one bedroom.
They tried to put out the flame, which was still small at the time, by dousing it with water but failed.
Madam Assirah then called the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and left the flat with her four children and Madam Bebas.
She also called her husband who was on his way home from work. Mr Rohisyam works long and irregular hours as a bus driver for tourists.
They have no clue what started the fire. Madam Assirah said there were no electrical devices charging in the bedroom when the fire started.
Although the family owns a personal mobility device (PMD), it was with Mr Rohisyam in his bus at the time of the incident.
The couple have one daughter and three sons aged 10, nine, eight and four.
The SCDF said it responded to the fire at 10.15pm, putting it out with one water jet. Police assisted SCDF officers in evacuating residents from the block.
Among the injured was Madam Bebas, who had complained of breathing difficulties.
She was subsequently discharged on Tuesday.
Electricity supply and corridor lighting at Block 191 were back in order at about 2am for most units and residents were allowed to return to their flats a few hours after the incident.
About nine people from Mr Rohisyam’s unit and the two adjacent units had to spend the night at Boon Lay Community Club, where they were provided with mattresses, pillows, blankets and water.
Madam Assirah told ST that HDB had arranged for the family to move into a seventh-floor flat in the same block. As of 4pm on Tuesday, they were still at Boon Lay CC but were hoping to move in later in the evening.
The Boon Lay grassroots team has also applied to the South West Community Development Council (CDC) emergency fund to provide the family with financial relief, said MP Patrick Tay, who is adviser to Boon Lay grassroots organisations, in a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon.
The family’s next-door neighbours – a father-and-son pair – are also staying at Boon Lay CC.
The younger man, who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan, said the damage to his flat was limited to cracks about 1cm-wide on one wall but they could not return home because the damage was still being assessed and the strong burn smell was also very unpleasant for him and his elderly father.
He said his mother is currently overseas.
When ST spoke to him on Tuesday, Mr Tan said he had not been informed of alternative living arrangements and might have to stay the night again at the community centre.
There were two separate fires involving PMDs at Housing Board flats in Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade last month.
The SCDF is currently investigating the cause of the blaze at Boon Lay Drive which involved the contents of the flat.