After fire, he sleeps at staircase landing out of guilt
Late-night fire guts Woodlands flat
Racked with guilt over a blaze that badly damaged their home, he slept at a staircase landing for five nights - even after his family had moved to another flat.
On Sunday night, a fire started in Mr Charanjeet Singh's bedroom when he was alone in the five-room flat in Woodlands Circle.
His parents were on a night shift working as security guards. His younger sister, a nurse, was also at work.
It was around 11.40pm and Mr Charanjeet, 30, was about to go to sleep. He turned on the air-conditioner and suddenly smelled smoke.
"Next thing I knew, I saw flames coming out from the air-con," he told The New Paper.
Panicking, the part-time mass communications student at the Management Development Institute of Singapore switched off the air-con and ran out of the flat.
He then phoned his father for help before calling the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
"I was so shocked. It's all my mess. I was praying the fire would just stay in my room," he said.
He said his room contained a lot of flammable material such as books and wooden furniture. This caused the fire to spread quickly.
The SCDF said it received a call about the incident at 11.50pm. The fire was extinguished in about 10 minutes and while there were no casualties, the flat was ruined.
On Thursday, when TNP went to the fifth-storey unit, it still smelled strongly of smoke.
The walls in every room were blackened. The plastic doors had melted and most of the furniture was too damaged to be used.
Even items that the family managed to salvage were damaged.
Mr Charanjeet and his family spent Sunday night sleeping outside their home at the narrow staircase landing, which is about 3m wide.
The SCDF had advised them against staying in their apartment as the soot could cause breathing difficulties.
During TNP's visit, Mr Charanjeet's mother, Madam Harijit Kaur, 54, was still removing damaged items from the unit.
"It was a really big fire. There is so much to throw away," she said.
Mr Charanjeet said the HDB had offered the family a flat to rent in Ang Mo Kio but it was unfurnished.
Instead, his father, Mr Koldecpoh Singh, 62, managed to rent a furnished four-room flat in Sengkang from his friend.
Mr Charanjeet said his sister, mother and he continued sleeping at the staircase landing for the next few nights because they wanted to be near their home to clear the debris and to attend to people visiting them.
On Thursday, the sister and mother moved to the rental Sengkang flat. Despite protests from his father, Mr Charanjeet continued to sleep at the staircase landing.
His reason? "It's all my fault. I feel responsible for what happened. I'm not emotionally ready to leave."
Though many important items were lost, including passports, birth certificates and identification cards, he was thankful for the help his family received.
When neighbour Lim Chee Chyun, 45, saw them sleeping at the staircase landing, he lent them a fan and power sockets.
He also let them use his toilet and shared his Internet wireless connection. "It gets stuffy here at night so it is the least I can do to help," he said.
Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee also visited on Monday evening to check on the family and offer help, including money and NTUC FairPrice vouchers.
She said: "It is a good thing the neighbours know each other and were helping the family. In Singapore, we have cases of neighbours squabbling with one another but this shows there are more neighbours who help each other."
Mr Charanjeet was told by the contractors that it would be two months before the family can move back home.
"I don't know what to do. We barely got by and had to work so hard, so things will be difficult now," he said.
Yesterday, his parents finally convinced him to join them in the Sengkang flat.
SCDF is investigating the cause of the fire.
"It's all my fault. I feel responsible for what happened. I'm not emotionally ready to leave."
- Mr Charanjeet Singh on continuing to sleep at the staircase landing even after his family moved to another flat
Air-con fires most common in S'pore
Fire caused by air-con units is the most common type of fire in Singapore households, said a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) report.
Based on the number of incidents handled by SCDF between 2008 and 2014, there are two to three cases of air-con fires every month compared to fires caused by other electrical appliances.
The danger of air-con fires is in how fast they can spread. "Given that rooms and offices are generally well furnished, air-con fire can be fuelled by the combustibles found in these premises," said an SCDF spokesman.
An air-conditioning company contacted by The New Paper said the fires often occur because the units had not been installed properly rather than a lack of maintenance.
Mr Charanjeet Singh said his family had hired a cheap contractor to install their air-con unit about five years ago to save money.
"We called a number on a sticker that was pasted on our door. It was cheap," he said.
The air-con company spokesman said that home owners risk their own safety when they engage cheap, possibly inexperienced, contractors to install their air-con.