Before fire started, we heard loud quarrel: Jurong residents

About 300 residents had to be evacuated from nearby HDB blocks after a huge blaze ripped through a wet market and coffee shop at Block 493, Jurong West Street 41, in the early hours of yesterday.

By the time firefighters put out the "raging fire" about 90 minutes later, all that was left of the market was a tangled mess of metal, charred wood and ashes. The roof had also collapsed.

Another coffee shop at Block 494 was also damaged by the fire.

Some residents of Block 499, a senior citizen's block that overlooks the wet market, said they heard a heated argument that involved some people shouting at around 2.30am, a short while before the fire broke out.

It is not known whether the incident had anything to do with the fire, which they said was initially small but rapidly grew and spread to other areas.


Mr Tony Pan, 66, who lives on the eighth storey of Block 499, told The New Paper that he was woken up by the sound of people shouting.

"I looked out of my window and saw some people quarrelling under a tree, but couldn't tell how many there were," he said.

"Then there was a small fire, about a quarter of a basketball court. By 3am, the fire had spread through the whole market, and the roof caved in."

Another Block 499 resident, Mr Jason Teh, 68, who lives on the 17th storey, also said that he heard loud noises from below but did not think much of it at first.

"People often sit downstairs to play mahjong at night, so when I heard the commotion of people arguing, I didn't think much of it," he said.

"When I smelled smoke at around 2.45am, I looked out of my window and saw a fire that was quite small. But it quickly spread to the market."

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it was alerted to the "raging fire" at 2.45am, and dispatched three fire engines, four Red Rhinos, seven support vehicles and four ambulances.

The SCDF said in a Facebook post that the wet market and coffee shop were "completely engulfed in flames", and six water jets and an aerial monitor were deployed to put out the fire, which was extinguished at 4.15am.

[Fire @ 493 Jurong West St 41] A first-hand view of the fire-fighting operation at the height of the blaze

Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Monday, October 10, 2016

"At the height of the fire, the roof of the wet market collapsed, and the exterior side wall of a coffee shop at Block 494, which was directly facing the raging blaze, sustained fire damage," it added.

No one was hurt but a woman in her 60s, who had breathing difficulties while being evacuated, was taken to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

When TNP arrived at 5.15am, SCDF officers were still carrying out damping-down operations.

A Block 494 resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Teo, 60, said the exterior wall of his three-room flat on the third storey, which is next to the wet market, was damaged.

When TNP visited his flat at 9.30am, a section of the interior wall had burn marks. The wall was still hot to the touch, and the floor was covered in soot.

The container driver, who lives with his wife and two tenants, said in Mandarin: "I woke up to the smell of smoke at around 3am. It was very hot, so we quickly evacuated."

During the blaze, he said he heard three explosions at the wet market, and was afraid the fire would spread to the gas tanks in the coffee shop below his block.

"We're so lucky nothing serious happened," he said.

Madam Aminah Mohammad, who also lives on the third storey of Block 494, said her son woke her up at around 3am.

The 54-year-old, who works in the retail industry, said: "We then woke up my 90-year-old mother, and our maid helped us take her out. The smoke was very thick. I was so confused, it was very scary.

"A husband and wife with a baby helped us to carry my mother, who was in a wheelchair, down the stairs."


She said she was extremely grateful for her neighbours' kind deed.

Jurongville Secondary School student Jasmine Lwa, 13, had to take her Secondary 1 mathematics exam paper yesterday despite not being able to sleep for most of the night.

She and her parents were told by the police to leave their fourth-storey unit at Block 494 at around 3am after thick smoke engulfed the area.

At 6am, she was allowed to return to the flat to get ready for school.

Jasmine told TNP later: "I was very tired because I didn't sleep much. I couldn't concentrate during the exam and found it hard to stay awake."

Residents were alerted to the fire through the mobile application SGSecure, said the SCDF. The Ministry of Home Affairs said this was the first incident for which an alert was sent out through the SGSecure app, and encourages more people to download the app, so that they can receive such alerts in future.

The alert was sent to users of the app who were in the vicinity of the fire.

The evacuated residents were allowed to return home progressively.

The fire destroyed 36 stalls in the wet market, which is owned by HDB, and 10 in the coffee shop.

Building and Construction Authority (BCA) engineers later inspected the building structure at Block 493 and found it to be stable, though the roof structure had partially collapsed and was damaged, reported The Straits Times Online.

BCA added that the structural integrity of Block 494 and its upper floors were not affected, though the fire had damaged the coffee shop on the first storey and part of the roof structure and adjacent linkways.

It has advised the owners of affected buildings to cordon off the affected areas.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

MP: Temporary site being considered

A stallholder at the coffee shop at Block 494, Jurong West Street 41, rushed to the scene after a regular customer alerted her to the fire at around 3am.

When Madam Noorlin Rahman, 52, who owns Noorlin Seafood, got there, she saw a small fire at the nearby wet market.

She told The New Paper: "I was scared, but I never thought it would spread all the way here. After the third explosion, the whole place went dark with smoke, and the fire reached here."

Madam Noorlin, who has run the stall for five years, estimated her losses, inclusive of stock, equipment and takings, to be around $3,000 a day.

(Above) MP for Jurong GRC Ang Wei Neng (middle) at the scene yesterday. Photo: The New Paper

"I'm rushing to look for a new place now. I'm very worried that I can't find another place because I have 12 workers to support," she said.


A flower seller, who wanted to be known only as Mr Teo, 65, said he lost a few thousand dollars which he had kept in his stall of 20 years at the wet market.

Mr Teo, who is single and works alone, had arrived at around 5am to find his stall destroyed.

He told TNP in Mandarin: "I'm angry because that was my hard-earned money. I have regular customers, but now I can't do business.

"It'll be good if we can get compensation. I'll be losing more than $30 a day, and will have to rely on my savings as I have no insurance."

Mr Ang Wei Neng, Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC, visited the area yesterday morning. He said he was trying to help the affected stallholders resume their businesses elsewhere, or set up an alternative site nearby for the time being.

One proposed alternative is to set up a temporary wet market and hawker centre at a new basketball court in front of Block 498 that was constructed in July.

Mr Teo (above) had a stall selling flowers at the wet market. Photo: The New Paper

Mr Ang added: "The wet market's building structure does not appear to be safe, so it will take a while before (the stallholders) can access the area. The two coffee shops adjacent to the market are also unlikely to operate for now."

He added that the Building and Construction Authority is looking to rebuild the market, which will take one to two years. In the meantime, HDB is looking into suspending the rental charges.

"Most importantly, there were no injuries. Our main concern is those units near the fire, and our first priority is for them to be safe. Now, we're checking these units for defects and (we will) see if we can help the residents in any other areas," Mr Ang said.

This article was first published on October 12, 2016.
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