Man who hoarded items died from smoke inhalation after flat caught fire: State Coroner

(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A man who stayed alone in a cluttered flat died after a fire started in his house, possibly due to a lit candle or cigarette, a coroner’s court concluded.

Sim Buay Piak stayed in a flat filled with items piled up to the ceiling at Block 157 Tampines Street 12, the court heard.

The 58-year-old, who was unemployed, died on 27 May last year after inhaling products of combustion, State Coroner (SC) Kamala Ponnampalam found on Thursday (11 July).

Ruling Sim’s death as an unfortunate misadventure, SC Ponnampalam said, “It is likely that when Mr Sim discovered the fire, he found himself trapped within the unit, by the hoarded items which made his escape from the unit almost impossible.

“Mr Sim must have retreated towards the back of the unit and into the toilet next to the kitchen to avoid the intense heat.”

Sim, who was single, was found squatting in the toilet with his arms folded in front of his chest as if he were protecting himself. He also held onto a rubber hose connected to a water tap, said the SC.

Paramedics found Sim unresponsive and they carried him out of the flat through the debris. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

When the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers arrived at the unit, they had difficulty entering the flat due to the number of items stacked behind the door.

Officers had to cut the wooden door open at the hinges before crawling their way into the flat. Among the items were air-con blowers, refrigerators, toilet bi-fold doors and other hardware.

A passerby who had been visiting another unit had smelled smoke at about 9.15pm on the day of the incident. He decided to check the source of the smoke and traced it to Sim’s unit, where he saw a small fire. He immediately called the police. , and the SCDF was activated.

The officers who entered the flat had to work with torches in pitch darkness as there was no light in the unit. There was no ventilation in the unit, which was filled with smoke. The heat in the flat was intense as the hoarded items had trapped the heat.

No water or electricity in unit: Sim’s brother

Tan Kah Chun, a social worker who was assigned to Sim, found that he was not working and was dependent on community help for his basic needs. Sim also collected scrap items to sell for money.

When Tan visited Sim, he found that the clutter of items made movement difficult as there was only a small pathway to enter the flat.

Despite being advised to get rid of the items, Sim was reluctant and told Tan that he could sell the scrap items and that he had been living this way for the past few years.

Tan told the court that Sim used candles to light his flat at night and was a smoker.

Sim used to share the unit with his mother until she passed away 12 years ago, according to his younger brother, Sim Boi Huat. He had rented a room out for a period of time.

Sim was formerly an air-con technician and did odd jobs before becoming unemployed. He did not have any psychological or mental issues, his brother testified.

The electricity and water supply to the unit was cut off as Sim did not pay his utility bills, according to his brother. Sim would sometimes light candles or joss sticks to pray at the altar in the living room but he did not cook in the house.

The probable cause of fire was accidental in nature, an SCDF report concluded. Even though the source of the ignition could not be determined, the report did not rule out cigarette embers or candle flames as possible sources.

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