Smoked out

SINGAPORE - He was in his Mother Tongue class when smoke and bits of joss paper started floating in through the classroom windows yesterday.

"My teacher asked us to close the windows, and by then, some people were already finding it hard to breathe," said Blythe Chong, 11, a Primary 5 pupil in West View Primary School.

The pupils were evacuated to the school hall, where they were held until the smoke dissipated about 1½ hours later.

Those who suffered breathing difficulties or had histories of asthma were held in enclosed air-conditioned rooms.

The fire was started around noon yesterday in a meshed bin on a grass patch, between the school and a nursing home along Senja Road at Bukit Panjang, as part of funeral rites.

But it spread to the grass around it, releasing a smoke trail that wafted towards the school and nearby HDB flats.

The New Paper understands that the school was prepared for an evacuation because of recent Total Defence Day drills.

West View Primary School is a dual-session school, with upper primary pupils attending morning classes.

Primary 5 pupil Vincent Paul, 11, said: "I felt a little difficulty breathing while some of my friends were sent home because they felt unwell.

"Because of the fire, our teachers instructed us to take a detour and leave school from the side gate so as to avoid the affected areas."

Ms Linda Inderjit Kaur, 46, whose child studies at the school, also received a text message after 4pm that notified her of the situation.

"I was very pleased that the school sent messages to every parent to keep us informed," she said.

Madam Rashidah Abdul Rasip, the school's principal, felt that the whole situation was under control throughout. She said: "The safety of our students is of utmost importance and the school will exercise precaution and care to protect their well-being."

A resident living in Block 610, directly across the road from the scene, said she had noticed that funeral offerings had been prepared near the scene of the fire.

Burnt offerings

"I saw some offerings like paper cars and houses, and people were about to burn them as part of the final day proceedings at a Chinese funeral," said Ms Dolly Mak, 50, a housewife.

She took in her clothes hanging outside her second storey flat but was not otherwise affected by the smoke.

It is not known how the fire went out of control. A Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) spokesman said it was contained within a 10m by 10m area, and charred the grass around it.

Student Brandon Lim, 18, said: "I saw SCDF vehicles arriving, and there was lots of debris strewn across the ground in the aftermath of the fire."

SCDF confirmed that it received a call about the fire at about 12.09pm, and immediately deployed two fire bikes and one Red Rhino, and a total of six personnel to the scene.

The fire was put out in minutes with canvas beaters.

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