It is Singapore's worst fire in 10 years.
Four men were killed after a blaze broke out at a Geylang Lorong 4 shophouse just after 1am on Saturday.
Eight were injured, including two firemen.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it received a call at 1.40am.Two fire engines, two Red Rhinos and six ambulances were dispatched to the scene.
Residents reported hearing an explosion before thick smoke enveloped the three-storey building facing Sims Way.
Eyewitnesses said the fire, which has claimed the most number of lives in the last decade, started in a first-storey unit which was shared by foreign workers, mostly from Malaysia.
SCDF officers said the fire was located in the centre of the unit, and it was extinguished within 30 minutes.
All four victims, cleaners from Malaysia, were living in this unit.
Known to their flatmates as Mr Ramu from Ipoh, and Mr Yusof and Mr Jobikol from Sabah, the three were pronounced dead at the scene.
SUCCUMBED IN HOSPITAL
Hours later, another Malaysian from Sabah, known to his roommates as Mr Mazlan, 48, succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
The New Paper on Sunday understands that Mr Mazlan's younger brother, who was also injured, is still being treated in hospital.
The unit in question - believed to be an area only slightly bigger than 1,300 sq ft - had nine rooms, each equipped with bunk beds, a tiny kitchen and a toilet.
Some of the men said their companies had helped them secure accommodation there.
One of the unit's residents, Mr Sapawi Ahet, escaped after he was woken up by shouts of fire by Mr Ramu.
He rushed out through the thick smoke, but his flatmates who had followed seconds after suffered the effects of smoke inhalation, he said.
Eyewitnesses said that rescuers were frantically performing CPR on the unconscious men they carried out, but to no avail.
Another group of men living in a unit on the third storey said they opted to jump onto a balcony of an adjoining building, before climbing down.
Malaysian Mohd Zarulakhma, 26, a cleaner, said the smoke stopped them from taking the stairs. His flatmate Mohd Shazwan Ahmad Zukri, 25, also a Malaysian, added: "It was terrifying. The smoke was suffocating. We're lucky we managed to help each other get out."
Two other men were spotted climbing out of the windows of their third storey unit to get away from the smoke. They were subsequently rescued by SCDF officers.
M'sian man's shouts save room-mates
It was the loud, frantic and continuous thudding on the door that shocked Mr Sapawi Ahet and Mr Peter Awat out of their sleep.
"Api! Api! (fire in Malay)," shouted a fellow Malaysian room-mate, Mr Ramu, who is believed to be in his 50s.
Mr Sapawi, 47, one of seven foreign workers in the first-storey unit of the Geylang shophouse at the time, reacted instantly.
He leapt off his top bunk bed, grabbed his bag and dashed for the entrance. By then, the unit was blanketed in thick smoke.
As he approached the doorway, he noticed Mr Awat, also 47, bolting in the same direction.
"The smoke was so thick. We were blinded by it," said Mr Sapawi in Malay when The New Paper on Sunday met him yesterday morning.
The Malaysian works as a cleaner.
Mr Awat added: "We ran out of the shophouse gasping for air."
A few seconds later, two other room-mates ran out, one choking from inhaling the smoke while the other, Mr Mazlan, 48, moaned in agony after sustaining burn injuries.
The smoke thickened even more after that.
Three men, including Mr Ramu, did not make it out. Singapore Civil Defence Force paramedics pronounced Mr Yusof, 40, Mr Jobikol, 41, and Mr Ramu dead at the scene.
Mr Mazlan died in hospital.
A shaken Mr Sapawi told The New Paper on Sunday: "Yusof and Jobikol were in deep sleep. It took them a few seconds longer to react."
The room-mates claimed that Mr Ramu's son, with whom he worked and lived here, had left for Ipoh for a four-day trip just hours before the fire.
Mr Ramu was also meant to have left for a night out in Johor Baru with an old friend and former colleague, Mr Chanran, at 3pm on Friday afternoon.
Turning up at the scene at 6am, Mr Chanran, 29, held his head in his hands and said: "I was supposed to go to JB with him, but my wife wanted to go with me instead.
"I saw him on Friday to explain and that was the last time I saw him."
He said that Mr Ramu was his former supervisor and that they had shared a strong bond.
Mr Chanran teared at the sight of his dead friend's former residence and said: "He was like a father to me."
'So scared fire was waiting for us'
Thick, acrid smoke was billowing into the corridor, quickly engulfing mother and daughter as they tried to escape the second-storey unit of their Geylang shophouse.
Restaurant worker Chow Poh Chee, 51, said they had been woken up by her husband.
She grabbed her daughter, Miss Low Kit Poi, and using a blanket as cover, rushed to the stairwell: "It was impossible to see anything. I was so scared that there would be fire waiting for us at the bottom."
As they left, her husband was still calling out to members of their extended family who live in their unit.
Some 11 people lived there, spread across five rooms, they said.
Miss Low, 29, a service executive, used her mobile phone to light their way.
FIRE DRILLS HELPED
"I attended fire drills at work. So I knew I had to get to the nearest exit, but it was frightening.
"I know it couldn't have taken us long to get out, mere seconds or minutes, but it felt like a long time while we were trying to get out of all that smoke," Miss Low said of their escape from their residence of over 20 years.
In the rush, Madam Chow took a tumble at the bottom of the stairs.
When she finally got out, she turned back, but did not see the rest of her family. They would be reunited after the family members escaped via a staircase at the back of the shophouse.
Madam Chow was taken to Singapore General Hospital, where her injured leg was treated.
This reporter met the duo a little after dawn yesterday. They were walking barefoot since they had fled without footwear.
Madam Chow recalled the chaotic rescue scene: "People were carried out by the firemen, all covered in soot, but they were already unconscious. The smoke was very thick.
"It was like we were in a movie. We were lucky to have escaped."
This article was first published on December 7, 2014.Get The New Paper for more stories.