Four people died in a relatively small fire that broke out in a shophouse used as a dormitory for workers from China, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia. The fire was reported at about 1:40am on Saturday, 6 December 2014, and put out within 30 minutes.
The Straits Times and The New Paper carried the news in their online bulletins.
Firemen searching the building, its rooms tightly subdivided into cubicles, found three unconscious persons. They were pronounced dead when brought to paramedics. They had no visible injuries on them, indicating smoke inhalation as a possible cause.
Nine other persons, including two firefighters, were treated at Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital. One of them, also a resident of the hostel, later died.
Malaysian newspaper The Star reported that the four who died were Malaysians who worked for a cleaning company. The men were named as Jubitol Rumanjing, 37, Maslan Musundo, 43, and Yusoff Masrong, 49, all from the East Malaysian state of Sabah, and Ramu Kotiah, 50, from Perak state in West Malaysia.
The building, located at 35 Lorong 4 Geylang, has been declared unfit for occupation — the thumbnail above shows the notice from the Building and Construction Authority affixed to a wall — and in the following hours, workers were seen moving their belongings out.
Chinese paper Shin Min Daily News reported that the affected unit of the three-storey walk-up apartment had eleven rooms, each occupied by up to eight workers, which makes for a total of about 88 people in a single apartment!
Many employers house their foreign workers in accommodation such as this. Illegal partitioning, poor ventilation, overloading of electrical circuits, overcrowding, and inadequate bathrooms are commonly-reported issues. To save money, poorly-paid foreign workers may cook within rather than eat out. This too presents a fire risk.
Geylang is a popular area for migrant workers, especially those from China. It has cheap food and cheap shops, yet centrally located with good transport links. Walls and columns all over the district are plastered with little signs advertising bedspaces: