Bedok North fire that killed three likely caused by cigarette left on cardboard boxes
A raging fire that killed three people in a Bedok North flat in 2022 was likely caused by an unattended cigarette left by the home owner’s boyfriend.
Home owner Aileen Chan and two of her tenants – Mr Tan Soon Keong, 34, and his three-year-old daughter Hui En – were killed in a pre-dawn fire at the flat in Block 409 Bedok North Avenue 2 on May 13.
On Friday, the first day of the inquiry into their deaths, police investigation officer (IO) Hairul Azly Hanaffi told the court that Mr Tan’s wife – who was also in the flat at the time – is in a vegetative state in a hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
He added that it is unlikely that she would recover.
The court heard that the fire started after Ms Chan’s boyfriend left a lighted cigarette on cardboard boxes, which were near a chair that he used to put on his shoes, in the unit before he left at about 5.30am.
But he was aware of this, and alerted Ms Chan, 56, via WhatsApp messages.
Ms Chan replied saying that it was dangerous, and added that it was lucky it did not start a fire. She then said she had disposed of the cigarette.
When asked by State Coroner Adam Nakhoda how the fire may have started, given that Ms Chan had disposed of the cigarette, she said there could have been a heat exchange between the cigarette and the cardboard boxes.
Given the right conditions, the boxes could have caught fire over time. This smouldering process may not have been immediately obvious to Ms Chan, said Major Han.
The SCDF officer added that other sources of fire in the flat were investigated – including an iron for clothes that was sent for analysis – and subsequently ruled out.
A ceiling light near to the source of the fire, which was severely damaged, was also ruled out. Checks showed it was in working condition before the incident.
Major Han said that through interviews, investigators learned that Ms Chan would switch off electrical appliances after they have been used.
IO Hairul said the police do not suspect foul play. Ms Chan’s boyfriend told investigators that he would have returned home to dispose of the cigarette had Ms Chan not responded to his message.
Ms Chan, who was a film producer and actress who survived cancer, was pronounced dead at the scene. She died because of the extensive burns she suffered and inhalation of fumes.
Mr Tan and his daughter died later in hospital. Fume inhalation contributed to their deaths.
The court heard that the trio were identified through their passports.
State Coroner Nakhoda said he was not prepared to deliver his verdict. The next hearing will be on July 13.