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SCDF: Burnt unit was under inspection

UNAWARE: The owner of the unit, who gave his name only as Mr Bala, said he did not know about the overcrowding and partitioning in the flat. - TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG

The Lorong 6 Geylang unit which caught fire yesterday had just been visited by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) for an inspection about a week ago.

In reply to e-mail enquiries, an SCDF spokesman said its officers had visited the flat on Feb 23 as part of SCDF's routine fire safety inspections.

"During the inspection, the door was locked and no one answered the door. Hence, a Notice of Inspection (NOI) was mailed to the owner, stating that the SCDF will be following up with another inspection on a specified date, March 25, and the owner is required to be present."

During the follow-up inspection on March 25, the unit was found to be vacant, the spokesman said.

Mr Yap Hong Guan, 71, who maintains the building, claimed that before the SCDF inspection, the unit housed more than 40 workers. But all of them had moved out by March 25.

He said: "They moved everything out, including the beds and bed frames, until the whole unit was empty."

He said he was with the SCDF officers when they went into the unit to inspect it.

But Mr Yap, who has been living in the building for 36 years, claimed that one day after the inspection, most of the workers moved back in.

CRAMMED

Mr Mahum Bahuccu, 22, a construction worker who lives at the affected unit, told The New Paper there were as many as eight rooms, crammed with 35 people, inside the unit.

The extra rooms were believed to have been partitioned from the living room.

Another construction worker who lives in the unit, Mr Helal Hossain, 32, said there were as many as 10 people living in his room alone, which is about the size of a common room in a HDB flat.

A first-storey resident of the block, Madam Lau Ya Hui, 72, a cleaner, said the affected unit originally had four bedrooms. According to her, bed space can go for $200 to over $300 each.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) guidelines state that the maximum number of occupants in a residential unit is eight, no matter how big the unit is, and each occupant should have at least 10 sq m of space.

There should also be "no internal partitioning works that alter the layout of the property to create more rooms. Such overcrowding can pose safety concerns", said URA's website.

The owners of the unit, a couple who gave their names only as Mr and Mrs Bala, said they were unaware of the partitioning and overcrowding in the unit.

Mr Bala, 60, who is jobless, said: "We seldom come here. (Our) agent rents (it) out for us for about $3,000 a month.

"We have owned this unit for about five to six years. We seldom come and trouble them."

He said he has been renting out the 1,950 sq ft (181.2 sq m) unit to a Bangladeshi man in his 30s, a work permit holder, for about a year.

Mr Bala said: "I was shocked. I thought it was only a fire but didn't know two died. I am very sad for them. I don't know what they were doing at 4am."

His wife, who gave her name only as Mrs Bala, said they have bought extra third-party fire insurance for the unit.

She was also aware of the fire inspection last month, said Mrs Bala, who works in the legal industry.

She said: "As a decent Singaporean, my husband would have come and told them to do the necessary."

SCDF said that anyone who spots a fire hazard or a fire safety violation can report it by calling 1800-280-0000 or e-mail SCDF_Fire_Safety_Feedback@scdf.gov.sg. They can also use the "mySCDF" mobile phone application.