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David Sun and Jessie Lim
The Straits Times
Dec 19, 2022
Gonzalo Montiel had just scored the winning penalty for Argentina in the World Cup final in the early hours of Monday morning, and cheers erupted across Woodlands Community Club (CC) where residents were watching the match.
Then, word spread about a fire at nearby Block 806 in Woodlands Street 81.
Grassroots leaders and residents at the CC sprang into action and rushed to the block to help out.
Ms Mariam Jaafar, an MP for Sembawang GRC, who had been watching the match at the CC, said: “A group of grassroots leaders headed down (to the block) right away, while a few of us briefed the team at the CC and contacted the relevant agencies before heading over.”
The residents and grassroots leaders immediately helped evacuate about 100 of the block’s residents.
Madam Lyn Ali, 45, a resident on the eighth storey, said she had been sleeping when she heard many people shouting.
“I thought they were shouting because of the World Cup. But there was suddenly a lot of smoke and so I rushed my five children out,” she said.
A spokesman for the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said about 100 people were evacuated from the block as a precautionary measure.
The fire engulfed a one-room rental flat on the fifth storey, and three people were taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for smoke inhalation.
Photo: The Straits Times
SCDF said preliminary investigations revealed the fire was of electrical origin. It is believed to have started from a personal mobility aid (PMA) in the unit’s living room.
The incident comes after the recent death of Sergeant (1) Edward H. Go, who fell unconscious while battling a fire in a two-room flat in Henderson Road on Dec 8. He died on the same day. The fire was likely of electrical origin.
On Monday, SCDF said it was alerted to the Woodlands fire at 2am. “The fire involved the contents of a living room in a unit on the fifth floor. SCDF extinguished the fire using two hose reels.”
A tenant of the damaged flat, who wanted to be known only as Mr Eber, said he had bought the PMA just a week ago.
The 33-year-old works as a GrabFood deliveryman.
He said the PMA did not come with a battery and so he had bought a second-hand battery on Carousell on Sunday.
“I bought the PMA for $680, and the battery for $300. It was for my mother who has knee problems,” he said. “But I didn’t know the battery was defective, because the seller claimed it was as good as new. And I found out it was an expired battery only after the fire.”
He said only his parents were home at the time, while he was out making deliveries to people watching the World Cup.
“I had initially charged the battery before shutting off the power and unplugging it,” he said.
“But when I was out, my mother messaged me saying there were sparks suddenly coming out from the battery pack.”
Mr Eber said that by the time he got home, the fire had been put out and the entire unit was gutted.
He added that he tried to contact the Carousell seller after the fire, but was blocked by the user.
Ms Mariam thanked the residents and grassroots leaders who responded to the incident, and said the Housing Board has secured a flat nearby for the family, as it works with Sembawang Town Council to clean up and reinstate the affected units.
She said: “Electrical fires from personal mobility devices are getting increasingly common, and we have seen that they can be deadly.
“We are fortunate that there were no casualties, but it’s really important that we raise awareness of the dangers and follow safe charging practices.”
Warning members of the public about fires of electrical origin, SCDF said they should not charge batteries for an extended period or overnight.
It added: “Do not purchase or use non-original batteries.”
In 2021, the top three sources of fires were unattended cooking, followed by electrical fires and fires involving household contents such as furniture. That year, there were 32 fires involving personal mobility devices and 23 involving power assisted bicycles.
Regularly check your device’s batteries for any damage or deformities, such as the presence of corrosion or a powdery residue.
Do not charge a personal mobility device or power-assisted bicycle along the escape path of your residence.
Charge your device on a hard, flat surface so that heat can dissipate.
Use a power adaptor that carries the Safety Mark and which is recommended by the device’s manufacturer.
Buy a personal mobility device that is certified under the UL2272 standard. Power-assisted bicycles should be certified under the EN15194 standard and bear the Land Transport Authority’s orange seal of approval.