SINGAPORE: A fire at a Housing Board flat in Bedok North that claimed the lives of a toddler, her father and their flatmate was likely to have been started by a lit cigarette left behind on a cardboard box.
This was revealed on Friday (Jun 30) at the opening of the coroner’s inquiry into the deaths of three-year-old Tan Hui En, her 35-year-old father Tan Soon Keong, and their 56-year-old flatmate Chan Ai Lin Aileen.
The lit cigarette had allegedly been left behind by Ms Chan’s boyfriend, named only as Mr Ithnin in open court, at about 5am on May 13, 2022.
He had purportedly placed the cigarette on a cardboard box beside a recliner he sat in, before leaving the flat at Block 409, Bedok North Avenue 2 for work.
However, he later remembered the cigarette and sent voice messages to Ms Chan asking her to dispose of it.
According to messages retrieved by investigators, Ms Chan replied that it was a dangerous thing to do and that it was “lucky” it had not caught fire. She also indicated that she had disposed of it.
She had replied at 5.47am.
The question remained – how did the fire start if the cigarette had been removed?
The lead fire investigator on the case testified that it was possible that there had already been “some heat exchange” when the tip of the lighted cigarette, which was burning down, came into contact with the cardboard.
Given the right conditions like ventilation and fuel, the heat can continue to be produced.
“They may not see the fire immediately,” said the investigator. “Sometimes you might see an orangey-bright lining, we call it incandescence. It will take time … we call this a smouldering process.”
She explained that Ms Chan might not have entirely removed the heat source.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) investigator said the house was cluttered, with cardboard boxes, wood pieces and other combustible items like furniture in the living room.