Thick black smoke filled the air and shouts of "Fire! Fire!" broke the silence of the night.
In their desperation to escape the burning unit, some residents jumped out of the second storey of a flat in Lorong 6 Geylang, which was being rented by Bangladeshi workers.
The fire, which broke out at about 4am yesterday, left two men dead and three injured.
Friends and relatives at the scene identified the two dead men as Mr Mamun Razzak, 22, and Mr Hossan Ali, 20, both construction workers.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated.
Mr Yap Hong Guan, 71, who told The New Paper that he was a maintenance man for the building, said he had been sitting outside his first-storey unit when the fire broke out. He was nursing a pain in his hand due to a stroke and it had been keeping him awake.
He said in Mandarin: "I heard screams and the dogs were barking. There was a lot of noise. I saw a lot of people running out of the flat.
"Some also started jumping down from the window one by one onto a leather case someone had thrown down."
He quickly called the police.
As he was doing so, he saw a worker drive his company pickup from the carpark in the building to a spot just outside the window.
"At least six workers then jumped (out of the window) onto the pickup. After that, the pickup moved back into the carpark and all the workers fled," said Mr Yap.
"Some were wearing sarongs, some without shoes."
Mr Mahum Bahuccu, 22, a construction worker who lives in the affected unit, said he was awoken from his sleep by shouts of "Fire! Fire!"
"Everyone rushed out. I quickly grabbed my shirt and ran out. I was very scared. The fire was in the next room," he said.
Mr Mahum, who has been working here for two years, said he could not see the fire, but could feel the heat. He escaped via the staircase, clad in only his singlet, sarong and slippers.
A resident in an adjacent building, Miss Nurul Safa Nizammudean, 24, a general worker, said she also woke up due to the commotion.
"I heard someone shouting 'Mamun! Mamun!' He was stuck inside and the smoke was very thick and suffocating. He was sleeping."
A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said it was alerted to the fire at 3.58am yesterday and sent two fire engines, three Red Rhinos, three supporting vehicles and three ambulances.
Firefighters entered the affected unit with two water jets and extinguished the fire within 30 minutes.
Two men found motionless in one of the rooms were immediately taken out of the unit. They were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, the spokesman added.
Two other men with burn injuries were taken to the Singapore General Hospital. Another man, who sprained his right wrist, was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Mr Mamun's cousin, Mr Mridha Md Parvej, 23, a construction worker who lives in Jurong East, said Mr Mamun got married four months ago.
A month after tying the knot, he came to Singapore to work.
Another construction worker and friend of Mr Mamun, Mr Juel Sheik, 21, said the two victims shared the same bunk bed, with Mr Mamun sleeping on the top bunk and Mr Hossan on the lower one.
Mr Juel said: "Last time, Mamun stayed at Lorong 17 Geylang. He moved here three days ago. Ali also moved here three days ago. They are from the same company."
He said he does not know why Mr Mamun moved.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), said MWC is assisting the affected workers.
SCDF: Burnt unit was under inspection
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.
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.
This article was first published on Apr 4, 2015.
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