SINGAPORE — Loud popping noises from outside his Bukit Batok flat roused technician Ishak Masrom from his slumber in the wee hours of Thursday morning (Oct 12).
When the 56-year-old opened the door of his second-floor unit to investigate, he was greeted by a small ball of fire metres away. The fire, which grew rapidly, was apparently sparked by his neighbour's overnight charging of an electric bicycle.
The father of nine tried to put out the fire with pails of water. The flames quickly engulfed his neighbour's flat and made the corridor impassable.
Mr Ishak was worried for the safety of his family. Twelve others — his wife, nine children, son-in-law, and five-day-old granddaughter — were with him in the flat at the time.
When the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived, they used their mobile phones to draw the firefighters' attention.
Adding to the drama, one of the window grilles in his daughters' room would not budge when firefighters tried to evacuate them to safety using a ladder. The SCDF rescuers had to kick the grilles open before 11 members of Mr Ishak's family could be brought safely to the ground floor.
His daughter, who had just undergone a Caesarean section surgery just days earlier, stayed behind in their flat with her husband while the SCDF doused the flames using a water jet. The couple left via the corridor after the flames were put out.
"We felt nervous, and panicked also. We didn't expect this to happen," Mr Ishak told TODAY on Friday, as contractors worked on repairs and restoration work at his Block 231 Bukit Batok East Avenue 5 flat.
His daughter and son-in-law received outpatient treatment on Thursday, while his infant granddaughter was discharged from the hospital on Friday.
One of their neighbours living in the unit that was gutted by the fire suffered minor injuries as well. The 53-year-old woman was similarly discharged from the hospital on Friday.
A day after the fire, contractors were seen disposing of items in the flat, and starting extensive clean-up and repair work on the soot-covered corridor, which was strewn with debris. A burning smell still lingered in the air, some 36 hours after the fire.
Ms Rahmah Rashid, 53, the sister-in-law of the woman who had been hospitalised, said the electric bicycle that caught fire belonged to her niece.
The bicycle, which was being charged in the corridor, had been connected to a power socket in the flat via a wire slotted through the window. Her niece had forgotten to turn off the power, added Ms Rahmah.
She told TODAY there were six people in the affected unit, including her sister-in-law and two nieces. The affected family will split up and live with Ms Rahmah and their other relatives in the meantime.
Mr Ishak's family remained in their flat on Thursday night despite the sharp but manageable burning smell. "What (are we) to do?" he asked.
Speaking to TODAY, the Member of Parliament for the area, Madam Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong Group Representation Constituency), said the incident was a "lesson learnt the tough way".
"It's a good reminder for everyone of all the things that can cause a fire hazard and the impact it would have not just on your family and your home but to everyone around you," said Mdm Rahayu, who visited some of the affected parties on Thursday morning. "It could have been worse."
With the rising use of personal mobility devices, she added that the fire was a "learning opportunity" for residents on taking care of their electrical equipment.
"This is definitely something we can learn from," she said.