‘Everyone is traumatised’: 4 terrace houses badly damaged by fire in East Coast Road
Mr Christopher Pang was leaving his house for supper with his friend on Monday night when he saw a bright orange glow from the second-storey of a house two doors away.
He quickly realised the house was on fire and it was spreading fast.
After he told his friend to wake his two teenage sons, mother-in-law and other residents, he ran to the burning house, and called for the elderly brother-sister pair inside to stop packing their valuables and unlock their gate.
Together with another neighbour, they tried to douse the fire with garden hoses for about five minutes before the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived.
“I was just focused on putting out the fire, first and foremost, to prevent injuries,” he said.
The blaze spread to three other homes, including his own at 12S East Coast Road. It raged on for two hours before it was extinguished by SCDF firefighters.
Looking on as the flames crept towards his house, Mr Pang said he felt helpless. His son, Michael, said he went to bed at about 11pm and was awakened by the acrid smell of smoke.
The 18-year-old woke his younger brother and maternal grandmother, who was visiting the family from Penang, Malaysia, and got them out of the house safely.
His paternal grandparents, mother and elder brother, who also live in the house, were not around at the time, with his mother overseas and his brother serving national service. His paternal grandparents returned from work at their Western food coffee-shop stall at about 1am when the road had been closed off.
Michael said he heard explosions and loud crashes as he evacuated his family and gathered valuables such as his laptop and mobile phone.
“I looked up and the ceiling was red,” he said, recounting that the flames had engulfed the top floor of the three-storey house.
Mr Pang, a real estate agent in his 40s, said he expects repairs to take about nine months because the structure of the house was badly damaged, as a part of the second-storey ceiling had collapsed.
The family, which has lived in the house for 13 years, is staying in the nearby Village Hotel Katong for the time being.
“Everyone is traumatised. It’s something that no one should experience,” Michael said. “No one should ever lose their home. It’s like an animal losing its habitat.”
He said he lost most of his belongings including thrifted vintage clothing, several pairs of shoes and a gaming desktop PC, which amounted to thousands of dollars.
“I worked so hard to buy all that, and all the hard work was gone in minutes,” said Michael, who has worked part-time jobs in food and beverage since he was 16.
Mr Pang said the master bedroom wardrobe had $1,500 in new notes that had just been withdrawn for Chinese New Year red packets, his marriage certificate and photo albums, which were all burnt to a crisp.
Other items that were lost include his wife’s watches and gold jewellery, diamond necklaces and a diamond ring passed down from her mother, a few thousand United States dollars, a leather sofa and paintings. He estimates the loss would come up to about $200,000.
He also has about 100 bottles of spirits and wines which may go bad if they are not stored at the right temperature, since his home’s wiring had been damaged in the fire.
Michael and his 13-year-old brother missed school on Tuesday, as they did not sleep that night. The second-year polytechnic student’s laptop and hard drive with all his school materials were damaged while his younger brother’s laptop was lost in the fire.
“I have a lot of assignments coming soon, but my laptop and hard drive are not working. It’s very worrying,” he said.
When The Straits Times arrived at the scene at 9am, a fire engine and SCDF personnel were conducting investigations, and residents were seen moving their belongings out of their homes.
The roofs of three houses were destroyed, leaving only piles of rubble where the top storeys had been.
An elderly woman, who has difficulty walking and had bandages on her face and hand, and her brother were seen assisting SCDF with investigations. ST understands they live in one of the affected homes.
The pair declined to comment.
About 20 residents were evacuated from the row of terrace houses, and one person was taken to Singapore General Hospital with minor burn injuries.
The SCDF said it was alerted to a fire at 12S East Coast Road at about 11.50pm on Monday.
SCDF said it used a combined platform ladder for aerial firefighting, as well as six water jets at the height of the operation. Two fire engines were deployed.
The fire was extinguished at about 1.50am, with four terrace houses sustaining damage.
SCDF said that damping-down operations were still ongoing as at 2.40am, referring to the use of water to wet burnt surfaces to prevent the rekindling of fire.
The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Marine Parade GRC MP Tan See Leng said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that six terrace houses were affected, four of which were severe. He added that an elderly pair suffered slight injuries and were taken to hospital for follow-up and observation.
The East Coast Road houses are worth some $4 million to $5 million each, according to listings on real estate portal PropertyGuru.
A neighbour who wanted to be known only as Kim said she was also awakened by the billowing smoke.
The 29-year-old said residents in the area, including from the nearby Sea View condominium, had gathered around the burning houses on Monday night.
“The fire was huge, and the explosions were so loud. I was so scared for my grandparents,” said Kim, who works as an analyst.
Another neighbour, who lives next to the affected houses, said his house was flooded and his family would not be able to return for several days.
Residents went to offer words of sympathy to Mr Pang as he retrieved some of his family’s belongings.
Mr Pang said he was close to his neighbours, many of whom are seniors who have lived in the neighbourhood for many years, and they have Christmas gatherings together.
“It is what it is, what can you do,” he said. “It could be worse. So I think count your blessings, you still have a life.”
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