Residents save seven from temple blaze that leaves two dead

Several people had already jumped from the roof of the burning temple onto her tiled roof.

But a middle-aged woman with a toddler firmly in her arms were still stuck on the hot aluminium roof at the temple.

It was 4.30am on Sunday and fire had gutted the temple at 40, Jalan Gaharu, near Bukit Timah Plaza.

Ms Ng Suan Eng, 67, a retiree living just behind the temple, realised there was no time to waste.

She hastily took a ladder she had and with the help of her maid, braved the heat to prop the ladder against the temple.

Never mind the raging fire.

Ms Ng said she had little choice: a middle-aged man was about to jump about 4m to get to her roof.

"One man first climbed down the ladder. He started coaxing the woman with the toddler in her arms to climb down, followed by the rest of them," she said.

As she steadied the ladder, they climbed down to her backyard even as other neighbours tried to fight the fire with their garden hose.

Another neighbour, a British national who wanted to be known as Mr Mackay, 36, said the blaze was so "intense" that his two mountain bikes melted.

Mr Mackay, who lives in a two-storey house next to the temple, said the walls of his twins' bedroom were blackened from the smoke.

"My wife woke me up and when I saw how serious the fire was, we decided to evacuate (the house).

"Once they were safe, we tried to hose the fire. But there was nothing (much) we could do. The fire was already out of control," he said.

Another neighbour, Mr Frankie Lee, 45, also tried to hose down the fire.

He was worried the fire might spread.

"I heard some explosions. We didn't smell smoke until my wife opened the windows. There was a lot of shouting going on," said Mr Lee, who is self-employed.

All of them were evacuated from their houses when the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived at the scene.

The fire was contained within 15 minutes with three water jets, an SCDF spokesman said.

But it was too late to save two men, believed to be a father and his son, 22.

TNP understands both were Malaysians and permanent residents here.

They were tenants of the temple.

TENANTS IN TEMPLE

Among those rescued were a Filipino man, a Filipino woman and a Malaysian woman. They were taken to the National University Hospital for smoke inhalation, a police spokesman said.

Neighbours said that devotees frequented the temple and that its rooms may have been occupied by foreign nationals.

Ms Ng said she had previously raised concerns about the rituals that were often conducted late into the night. She said there was often burning of joss sticks and incense paper.

"I just feel that this could have been prevented if the relevant authorities intervened earlier," Ms Ng said.

She moved into her home in 2011. Neighbours said the temple, which had been converted from a single-storey semi-detached unit, had been there for more than 10 years.

The retiree recognised two of the women she helped to be the two Taoist priestesses at the temple.

"I think the fire was so huge that it blocked the front door, so they had no choice but to exit from the back," she said.

Although she had previously been upset by the noise made by some devotees, she did not hesitate to help.

She added: "In an emergency, you cannot think about all this! You just want to make sure everyone is out of danger.

CHARRED REMAINS

When The New Paper arrived at the scene, the temple was already razed to the ground, leaving the charred remains of the house's structure and a few religious statues.

The charred remains of two people were found in the house. They were burnt beyond recognition.

Ms Ng said she was concerned for an elderly man in his 60s who helped out at the temple.

"There was an old man I saw regularly in the temple who was unaccounted for. He was not one of the seven on the roof," she said.

Police investigations are ongoing.

- Additional reporting by Latashni Gobi Nathan

Temple has Johor branch

Fo Hai Chiou Shih Pu Zhao Si had been around for more than a decade, residents of the area said.

The temple was housed in the semidetached unit at Jalan Gaharu.

The Taoist temple, where devotees worshipped deities like the Grand Duke (Tai Sui) and the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin), also has a branch in Kulai, Johor.

TNP learnt from neighbours that other than the two nuns who run the temple, there were other tenants in the house, including some Filipinos and Malaysians. On the 1st and 15th of each lunar month, the temple would invite devotees to join in the rituals.

Retiree Ng Suan Eng, 67, who lives behind the temple, said she noticed that prayers were sometimes held during the pre-dawn hours.

Ms Ng, who lives with a helper and two dogs, moved in in 2001.

She said the rituals could get noisy and there would be the smell of smoke from the burning of joss sticks and incense paper.

So when a fire broke out in the middle of the night, she did not think the temple was burning.

Neighbours who live adjacent to the temple told The New Paper that they had limited contact with the nuns and the tenants in the temple, but they said the people there were "nice".

A neighbour who wanted to be known as Mr Mackay said they were "very respectful", and that they "got along fine".


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