Owen Road fire: Neighbours tried to save woman from flat

The elderly woman’s body was found after firefighters doused the flames that engulfed the entire seventh-floor unit in Owen Road on Wednesday. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN
The elderly woman’s body was found after firefighters doused the flames that engulfed the entire seventh-floor unit in Owen Road on Wednesday. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

But thick smoke kept them from reaching 92-year-old wheelchair user

When a group of brave neighbours rushed into the home of 92-year-old P. Lakshmi early Wednesday evening, they saw the frame of her bed on fire.

But they could not get any nearer because there was simply too much fire and smoke.

Said Ms Nisha Abdul Rahim, who has lived at Owen Road's Block 47 all her life: "The smoke was so thick, it was hard to see. But I could see fire all round her bed. I couldn't hear any sound."

The elderly woman, who had to use a wheelchair to get around, is believed to have been in bed in the one-room rental flat at the time.

Her body was found after the Singapore Civil Defence Force put out the fire, which had engulfed the entire seventh-floor unit by the time firefighters arrived.

When Ms Nisha, 39, first smelled smoke coming from the flat, she ran over with three other neighbours. Since Madam Lakshmi always left her door open and gate unlocked, they managed to enter the flat easily.

She said another neighbour took a pail of water, but they could not stay in the flat as the smoke became too thick for them to breathe properly.

Ms Nisha, a telemarketer, was hoping that her elderly neighbour was not at home at the time. But 20 minutes later, Madam Lakshmi's maid rushed up to Ms Nisha and said her employer had not left home. "She was in a panic. She said Amma (mother) was alone at home."

Madam Lakshmi had sent the maid, whom she lived with, to buy Panadol, her daughter-in-law, Madam S. Pooranam told The Straits Times on Wednesday.

Madam Pooranam could not keep her tears back as she recounted: "She was looking forward to my daughter's wedding in three weeks' time. She gave me this and that. She was so excited."

The SCDF, which put out the fire within 30 minutes, had received a call at 5.45pm informing them of the incident.

Members of the nearby residents' committee served food and drinks as about 80 people living in the block had to wait for about five hours for a police cordon to be lifted before they could go back home.

Member of Parliament for the area Lui Tuck Yew also visited the scene. Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg