More than 100 evacuated as clutter outside flat catches fire
4 taken to hospital after Telok Blangah blaze; town council says woman, son had 'severe hoarding issues'
She lives with her son and over the years, collected items like plants, boxes, shoes and plastic bags full of clothes and left them outside her flat along the corridor and lift landing on the ninth floor.
One neighbour tried to convince her to clear the clutter, but to no avail. Another neighbour had informed the town council about the items being a potential fire hazard, but the problem persisted.
On Monday night, their worst fears were realised when a fire broke out at Block 3 Telok Blangah Crescent.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said in a Facebook post they were alerted to the fire at around 8pm and it involved numerous items that had been placed along the corridor on the ninth floor.
SCDF and the police evacuated more than 100 residents from the ninth to 12th floors. Four people were taken to Singapore General Hospital.
The fire was put out with a water jet, and investigations are underway over the cause.
Neighbours said the woman who collected the items was Madam Sariffah Alwiyah Syed Muhammad. She said the items were for charity and insisted she was not a hoarder.
But a spokesman for Tanjong Pagar Town Council (TPTC) told The New Paper the mother and son have "severe hoarding issues".
Madam Sariffah's son is believed to be a 43-year-old unemployed man.
Mr Supradye Supono and his wife moved into their ninth-floor flat six years ago. He said yesterday he had spoken to TPTC about the problem on three occasions last year.
His wife was one of the four taken to hospital after she suffered an asthma attack. She was discharged at 3am the following morning.
Mr Supradye, 37, a pest control worker, said: "The items were already there when we moved in. It worried me because I had seen news reports of fire caused by items left along the corridor. I did not want that to happen to us, but it did."
TPTC and other agencies had decluttered the area in April and had also tried on multiple occasions to get Madam Sariffah to keep the space clear, but she refused to comply.
Said the TPTC spokesman: "The town council has been working closely with the relevant agencies like Agency for Integrated Care, Habitat for Humanity Singapore and Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society over the past few months to attempt to reduce the clutter both in the unit as well as along the common corridor.
"However, the efforts have not been too successful as the resident has been hostile to the agencies and not willing to open her door to the volunteers."
Mr Chong Peng Teck and his wife moved into their unit on the ninth floor more than 20 years ago.
Mr Chong, 70, said they were watching television on Monday night when they sensed something burning.
"It was so scary. My wife and I were watching television when we realised there was a strong burning smell. That was when I opened my front door and saw the entire corridor filled with smoke. I could even feel the heat of the fire.
"My wife took some important documents and we just ran out of the house. Everything was in a frenzy. I didn't even have time put on my clothes.
"My neighbours were shouting at their families to evacuate and some were covering their mouths with wet cloths."
TPTC is clearing the area before doing a thorough washing. That will be followed by rewiring, trunking and painting works.
In the meantime, its spokesman said the Housing Board (HDB) will help relocate affected residents to temporary premises, and the town council is working with the People's Association to provide assistance to the residents.
The TPTC spokesman added: "We have already cleared all the items outside the unit and will work with HDB regarding the clutter inside the unit. We will also work closely with the agencies to engage the resident and see how we can help her."
Mr Melvin Yong, MP for Radin Mas, said in a Facebook post yesterday that three of the residents who were taken to hospital have been discharged.
The remaining patient is in stable condition and under observation, he added.
He advised residents not to use the common corridor as a storage area and to keep the walkway clear in order to minimise fire hazards.
Mr Chong, a cleaner, had tried to persuade Madam Sariffah to remove the clutter a few times.
Shaking his head, he said: "It started with a few items placed along the corridor. Then, we noticed she would continuously add to the pile.
"I just wish she had listened. If the items were cleared, none of this would have happened."