'I will never forget that day': After woman's HDB flat caught fire, her dad died of cancer on same day

Ms Noraini Halik and her husband Azlee Sulaman in the kitchen of their flat where a fire broke out last month. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

SINGAPORE - After a fire broke out in Ms Noraini Halik's four-room Housing Board flat in Jurong last month, thick black soot covered most of her house and her kitchen was burnt to a cinder.

But that was not all that broke her heart.

The 54-year-old housewife lost the chance to say goodbye to her father for the last time.

"I wanted to talk to my father about the fire but I couldn't. By the time I rushed to the hospital, my father had died," she said, adding that the 84-year-old had lung cancer.

"I will never forget that day," she added. The doctors had warned the family that he was not doing well but she had to deal with the aftermath of the fire.

One month on, Ms Noraini sits at a small square table near the lift outside her fifth-floor flat from about 8am to 6pm every day to supervise the renovation works.

Most of the interior has been restored - the smell of smoke that lingered for three weeks replaced by that of paint.

Items such as sofas and curtains that were smothered with soot were thrown out. The rest are crowded in the middle of rooms or line the corridor outside the flat.

The kitchen, walls scorched and completely empty, is the only reminder of that day.

Her husband Azlee Sulaman, 54, said he does not earn much as a warehouseman. To cover the renovation cost of $26,000, their two children, aged 26 and 29, and their partners chipped in, and also raised funds through Instagram.

Mr Azlee, who is thankful to more than 500 people who donated, said: "Within just three to four days, a lot of people donated. This is what being Singaporean means I think."

He plans to buy fire extinguishers and fire insurance for the flat, as well as change the wrought-iron window grilles to ones that can be opened so it will be easier to escape in an emergency.

When the fire broke out in the morning on June 13, Ms Noraini was in her room with the door closed.

She said she cannot recall what the fire was like because she dashed out with her son and grandson without looking back, but the state of the flat after the blaze is as clear as day in her mind.

"My kitchen. Everything was gone. The living room was also covered with soot. All black," she added. "It was horrible."

Mr Azlee, who was at work then, said his mind raced through all the worst-case scenarios on his way back home.

"I was very worried. The smoke could've killed them, it was so thick and black," he added.

In a Facebook post, the Singapore Civil Defence Force said it was alerted to the fire at 7.50am. About 15 people were evacuated from neighbouring units by the police.

No one was injured in the incident.

According to Mr Azlee, the fire was caused by a faulty oven with a loose knob.

Ms Noraini said the kitchen was her happy place because she loves to cook and bake.

She spoke fondly of a dinnerware set she had for more than 20 years that was passed down to her by her late mother .

"I really treasure the things she gave me," she said. "When we had gatherings during Hari Raya or special occasions, I would cook and use these plates to serve the guests."

Even though many relatives and neighbours offered to house the family, the couple continued to stay in their flat.

Even though many relatives and neighbours offered to house the family, the couple continued to stay in their flat. ST PHOTO: YONG LI XUAN

"The smell was terrible at first," Ms Noraini said. "Like the smell of burning incense."

Now, she checks that all the appliances and lights are switched off before she goes to bed every night because of a nagging worry that a fire may break out again.

Even though the fire traumatised her, Ms Noraini has since put things in perspective. As she said: "At least it wasn't the whole house. It's only my kitchen that burned."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.