Fire in Hougang flat: Neighbour said she burned incense paper at odd hours

SINGAPORE - She had just lost her husband to cancer about two weeks ago.

And yesterday morning, a fire broke out in a bedroom of their four-room HDB flat in Hougang.

The 50-year-old woman, known to her neighbours as "Ah Kat", was found unconscious in the kitchen.

She is warded in Singapore General Hospital.

A neighbour, Ms Janet Loh, 57, who works in sales, told The New Paper in Mandarin: "I was at home and could smell some smoke, but I wasn't sure where it was coming from until another neighbour knocked on our door to alert us."

She lives with her elder brother's family of four and her parents in the unit that was just next to Ah Kat's.

Ms Loh went over to check on Ah Kat, but there was no answer.

Since her husband's death, Ah Kat has been burning incense papers at odd hours of the day, Ms Loh said. Previously, the widow would also do so on the first and 15th day of the Chinese lunar calendar.


She added that Ah Kat did not get along with the neighbours.

Ms Loh said: "She'd destroy our potted plants and often got into arguments with the others so often that most of us just avoid her."

But she felt sorry for the childless widow.

"Her husband used to take care of her, but she is now really all alone," she said.

Madam Low Ah Moy, 71, who lives two units away, was less sympathetic. She said in Teochew : "I'd hang my clothes on poles along the corridor in front of my house, and this woman would remove them and throw them downstairs."

Her granddaughter, a polytechnic student, was the first to spot the smoke coming out from Ah Kat's kitchen unit, she added.

When Ah Kat was carried out of her home, she was unconscious and all covered in soot, said Madam Low.

An SCDF spokesman said that when their officers arrived at the unit, the door was locked and they had to gain entry using breaking tools.

MP for the area Gan Thiam Poh told The New Paper that he had visited Ah Kat's unit and also spoken to the neighbours.

He said that grassroots activists had first approached her at her husband's wake, but her relatives had then said Ah Kat did not need any help.

But yesterday's fire has made him "very concerned" and he has asked for a report so the relevant authorities could look at how to best help her.

Mr Gan added: "For a start, the Town Council has helped to clean up the common corridor and also removed the broken windows inside the flat. But we cannot do more."

This article was published on May 2 in The New Paper.

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