Fatal fire in flat: Clutter likely hindered woman's escape

A home fire which killed an elderly woman was most likely caused by lit joss sticks and candles near her massive collection of cardboard and other flammable materials, a coroner's court heard yesterday.

A resident called police at about 4.35pm on Oct 31 last year after he noticed smoke pouring out of a 10th-storey flat at Block 640, Rowell Road, across from his block.

An inquest into the death of Madam Wong Siew Lan heard that firemen found it difficult to make their way into the smoke-filled and cluttered unit.

After the fire was extinguished, they found the 77-year-old in the kitchen toilet, conscious but drowsy and unable to talk.

Her clothes were "full of black ash patches". She was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and transferred to Singapore General Hospital's Burns Centre the next day. She died two days later from smoke inhalation.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) found that the fire had originated near the entrance to the kitchen, where lit religious paraphernalia sat on a small table.

SCDF found joss sticks and candles in the living room and kitchen that were not completely burnt. This suggested Madam Wong's last act may have involved lighting the religious items.

Investigators also found combustible material close to where the fire originated. Madam Wong may have been in the kitchen when she discovered the fire, the investigation concluded.

In his findings, State Coroner Marvin Bay said: "The clutter created by her hoarding within the unit, the location of the fire at the entrance to the kitchen and the ensuing smoke from the fire are all assessed to likely to have been contributing factors to Madam Wong's inability to evacuate from her apartment."

The court heard it was likely that she had sought refuge in the kitchen toilet, where she collapsed and suffered injuries related to smoke inhalation, which proved fatal.

Coroner Bay found her death to be from a "tragic misadventure". He said her death underscores the serious inherent dangers posed by indiscriminate and disorganised hoarding of combustible materials.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Fatal fire in flat: Clutter likely hindered woman's escape'. Print Edition | Subscribe