Granny killed in flash fire after using thinner to clean stove and cooking with windows closed

PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

SINGAPORE - She had a habit of using thinner to clean stubborn stains on her gas stove.

Madam Owe Yong Ah Fong, 93, also liked to keep the windows of her Circuit Road flat closed to keep out dust and insects.

On Apr 24 this year, both habits of hers indirectly caused Madam Owe Yong's death when she used the flammable liquid to wipe the stove before using a spark gun to light a burner as she wanted to prepare for dinner.

The act caused a flash fire due to the presence of escaped town gas that had accumulated in the kitchen, heard a court inquiry held on Friday (Sept 29) into Madam Owe Yong's death.

State Coroner Marvin Bay, who found her death to be tragic misadventure, said the flash fire had inflicted severe burn injuries, from the combustion of the town gas as well as thinner vapour "which had likely impregnated her clothing during her cleaning chores".

He added: "There is no evidence to suggest that the gas stove was faulty, and the accumulation of town gas was likely due to a delay on Madam Owe Yong's part in using the spark gun to effect ignition after some time had elapsed from her turning on the gas burner.

Madam Owe Yong's granddaughter, who lived with her, came home at around 7pm that day and found her lying face-up on the kitchen floor.

She alerted emergency services and a paramedic pronounced the grandmother dead about 20 minutes later.

An autopsy revealed that Madam Owe Yong had burns on about 75 per cent of her body. She also had soot in her oral cavity, upper airways, oesophagus and stomach - suggestive of smoke inhalation.

A forensic pathologist certified her death to be from extensive burn injuries with smoke inhalation.

Following this tragedy, Coroner Bay urged residents on Friday to always operate gas stoves with the windows open to ensure proper ventilation.

He added: "Be sure to light the stove immediately after turning the gas on, and if ignition does not take place, to immediately turn the gas off. An explosion can occur by a delay of more than a few seconds, due to the rapid accumulation of gases.

"Even minor gas explosions can seriously injure someone who is standing close to the stove."