Unattended cigarette caused Bedok North flat fire that killed three, including 3-year-old
An early morning fire in 2022 in a Bedok North flat that took the lives of three people was caused by a cigarette that had been left unattended for 10 to 15 minutes.
Its hot ash and embers likely ignited the cardboard boxes it had been left on, which started a fire on May 13, 2022, that raged through a flat at Block 409 Bedok North Avenue 2, where five people were living.
Delivering his findings on Nov 22, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda ruled that the deaths of home owner Aileen Chan, 56, and two of her tenants – Malaysian Tan Soon Keong, 35, and his three-year-old daughter Hui En – were an unfortunate misadventure.
Tracing the events of that fateful day, State Coroner Nakhoda said Ms Chan’s boyfriend, named only as Mr Ithnin, woke up at 5.20am and prepared to leave for work.
Ms Chan, a film producer and actress who had previously battled cancer, was packing his breakfast at the time.
Mr Ithnin lit a cigarette in the master bedroom as he dressed. Later, when he sat on a recliner sofa in the living room to put on his shoes, he placed the cigarette on a stack of cardboard boxes beside the sofa.
He then left the house. He realised only around 5.45am that he had left the cigarette unattended, and sent two voice messages to Ms Chan to retrieve the cigarette.
Based on Ms Chan’s replies to his message, she retrieved and disposed of the cigarette, and returned to her room, said State Coroner Nakhoda.
However, by this time, the cigarette had been left unattended for 10 to 15 minutes. Hot ash and embers could already have fallen onto the cardboard, and the lit tip of the cigarette may have touched the cardboard box, causing the edge of the box to smoulder.
Around 45 minutes later, the living room was engulfed in flames. Neighbours called the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) at about 6.30am.
A neighbour, Mr Willie Toh, saw Mr Tan calling for help through the bedroom window.
Mr Tan threw his keys to the front door and asked Mr Toh to open it. But when Mr Toh did so, he was confronted with a large fire, and it was impossible for him to enter the unit.
State Coroner Nakhoda added that it was also not possible for anyone in the flat to leave because of the fire and smoke.
SCDF firefighters extinguished the fire by 7.05am.
They found Ms Chan in the house, unresponsive and severely burnt. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mr Tan, his daughter and wife, then 34, had collapsed and were found unresponsive. They were rushed to hospital, where father and daughter died that same morning.
The cause of death for the father and daughter was fume inhalation.
No foul play was suspected in all three deaths.
During the inquiry into their deaths in June 2023, police investigation officer Hairul Azly Hanaffi told the court that Mr Tan’s wife is in a vegetative state in a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, and it is unlikely that she would recover.
State Coroner Nakhoda expressed his condolences to the families of Ms Chan and Mr Tan for their loss.