Fire kills one, guts house in Delima

National 3 minutes, 4 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

"I COULDN'T. I couldn't bring her back." These were the words of a tearful mother of eight who lost her fourth child to a fire that gutted a house in Kg Pancha Delima yesterday morning.

About 15 minutes had passed since Chua Wee Ching returned home from her job as a cleaner in the capital, switching with her daughter-in-law to watch over Chua's two mentally-challenged children and her two-and-a-half-year-old infant grandchild. It was in those 15 minutes, about 10am yesterday, that disaster struck.

Smoke was the first visible indication that a fire had started in the house, which the family of 13 had lived in the past nine years.

"It (the smoke) looked like it started from the top floor at the rear of the house," said a maid from a neighbouring house.

As the smoke grew thicker and thicker, more of the neighbours came to see what was happening, with some immediately calling the Fire and Rescue Department.

"The mama (Chua) was shouting for help," recalled another neighbour who runs a grocery store. "I told everyone, Call the fire brigade."

Neighbours and bystanders immediately tried to help Chua get one of her children and grandchild out of the burning house, said the owner of the grocery shop.

However, her fourth child Ang Soo Geok, who was sleeping upstairs at the time, perished as the flames and smoke engulfed the two-storey house.

"I could not go upstairs. I cannot get my child back," Chua told reporters less than 30 minutes after being rescued from the still-burning house.

Sobbing and bereaved, Chua stammers, but tries to tell the events which unfolded leading to the demise of her 33-year-old daughter.

That morning, Chua had been working in Bandar Seri Begawan and was waiting for one of her sons, Ang Ting Leong, to pick her up to go home. Her daughter-in-law was already at home watching over Chua's grandchild and her two mentally-challenged adult children. Chua would take over watching the children, while her daughter-in-law went to work.

"I have eight children and four of them are mentally-challenged. But it was just the four of us at home," she said. "She (the deceased) was sleeping upstairs, my son was downstairs with me and the baby."

Ang Ting Leong said that his mentally ill sister could not speak and had difficulty walking. "It is a condition from birth. Usually, somebody has to take care of them (his siblings)."

"Even my mother has difficulty to go up the stairs, so she would not have been able to save her in time," Ting Leong told The Brunei Times.

A total of 24 personnel and three fire engines from the Lambak Kanan and Berakas fire stations were dispatched to respond to the call received at 10.30am, according to Commanding Officer Shahreeni.

"It took nine minutes to reach the house," he said.

Firefighters battled the flames from the front and rear of the house, with the body of Soo Geok still inside, unsure whether she was still alive or not at the time. The firefighters themselves were at risk as a portion of the roof collapsed while personnel were still inside the house. Fortunately, the authorities were unharmed.

Personnel from the Department of Electrical Services, Royal Brunei Police Force, Crime Investigation Department, Medics and forensics were on hand to assess the situation.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Ting Leong said that he had been planning to transform the house into a concrete one due to the family's concerns over the quality of timber used to build the house.

The Brunei Times