Woman trapped in burning Woodlands flat in moneylending harassment case
Victim was stranded on balcony, front gate was chained
When Miss Janel Tay heard screams of "Help me! Help me!" in Mandarin at about 3.30am, she thought it was a robbery.
But when a burning smell wafted into her room a while later, the 18-year-old knew it was something else.
What she saw next as she rushed to the balcony at the back of the kitchen shocked her: Plumes of smoke billowing out of a balcony window diagonally across her flat and a woman gasping for air.
"She was leaning outside the window and holding on to the window pane. The smoke was very 'jialat' (Hokkien for dire)," the ITE student told The New Paper.
The fire started on Sunday morning in a three-room flat on the seventh storey of Block 318, Woodlands Street 31.
Miss Tay, who lives on the eighth storey, immediately woke her mother up.
"My mother told me to call 995 and to spray water at the woman (to help her feel better from the smoke)," said the teenager.
She did just that with a hose connected to a tap in her kitchen. She aimed the hose at her neighbour who was struggling amid the acrid smoke.
"(The victim) kept asking (me) to spray more water on her. That's all I know," said Miss Tay.
She kept at it for about five minutes, until officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived.
The SCDF was alerted to the fire at 3.50am, said a spokesman. Its officers had to use breaking tools to force open the metal gate, as the grilles had been locked with a bicycle chain.
Shin Min Daily News reported that the fire was believed to be linked to a man involved in unlicensed moneylending.
Officers put out the fire in the living room with a water jet before rescuing the 46-year-old victim from the balcony.
She was taken to Singapore General Hospital for smoke inhalation.
A crowd had gathered at the foot of the block. One of them was a quality control inspector who wanted to be known only as Mr Dharmaraj.
The 38-year-old, who had moved into his sixth-storey flat just four months earlier, said he was startled by the woman's screams and ran downstairs to find out what was going on.
Another resident, a retiree who gave his name as Mr Teng, said he initially thought the ruckus was caused by a quarrelling couple.
TNP understands that the victim was alone in the flat during the fire. Her nephew, who studies in a nearby school, usually stays with her but he had gone to Malaysia that day.
The victim is believed to be putting up at her neighbour's flat.
When approached, the neighbour declined to comment, adding that she preferred not to speculate out of respect for the victim.
When TNP visited the affected flat yesterday afternoon, the burnt smell still lingered.
The walls of the living room and its contents were charred. A tangled mess of wires could be seen hanging from the ceiling.
With no front door left, the flat was secured with a bicycle lock on the unit's metal gate.
The police have classified the fire as a case of unlicensed money-lending harassment, said a spokesman.
Investigations are ongoing.
'I didn't owe any money but...'
The fire that burned the three-room flat on Sunday morning is believed to be linked to a man who wanted to be known only as Mr Aw.
According to Shin Min Daily News, his name and identification number, along with the message "O$P$", were scribbled on the wall next to the burned flat at Block 318.
When approached by The New Paper yesterday, Mr Aw, who lives in Block 317, Woodlands Street 31, denied borrowing any money.
"I didn't owe any money, but I was the guarantor for my friend whom I think ran away," Mr Aw, who looked to be in his late 20s, told TNP.
Mr Aw said he had moved out of the flat more than a year ago and was back to "take some stuff".
He claimed his friend had borrowed $800 from "a legal company", but the amount snowballed to $2,400 due to late payment.
When asked why another flat in an adjacent block was made to bear the brunt of the debt, Mr Aw pointed at the surveillance cameras outside the unit and said: "Maybe it's because of them?"
Three of the cameras were installed three years ago, after the Aw family found their items placed in the corridor missing. A fourth one was installed by the police on Monday.
After the fire on Sunday, Mr Aw said he continued receiving calls from moneylenders threatening to burn his flat.
He said he has given his statement to the police.
By the numbers
Number of unlicensed money lending-related harassment cases:
Number of unlicensed money lending-related harassment cases with property damage:
SOURCE: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE