Wheelchair-bound woman died of smoke inhalation after lit joss stick sparked fire in flat: Coroner

Wheelchair-bound woman died of smoke inhalation after lit joss stick sparked fire in flat: Coroner

Block 165 Gangsa Road Google Street View fire 2018
Screengrab from Google Street View of Block 165 Gangsa Road in Bukit Panjang.

SINGAPORE: An 83-year-old woman who was found dead and severely burnt in a Bukit Panjang flat had died of smoke and fume inhalation, a coroner's inquiry found on Thursday (May 30).

The fire had been sparked by embers from a lit joss stick, said State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam in her findings.

The accidental fire likely ignited a cardboard box, newspapers and towels nearby, with the ventilation from an oscillating standing fan fanning the flames, said a fire investigator with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). 

In his fire investigation report to the coroner, Lieutenant-Colonel Dannies Ang Weitong gave safety tips to the public about burning religious items near flammable objects.

Madam Lim Mang Yin, who was wheelchair bound, was not likely to have been able to evacuate on her own when the fire broke out and she succumbed to smoke and fume inhalation, the court found.

The elderly woman, who had dementia, had just moved to her daughters' home in Block 165 Gangsa Road two weeks before the fatal incident, as the flat she lived in was being upgraded.

On Nov 30, 2018, her older daughter was at work and her younger daughter smelled cigarette smoke coming from her neighbour's home around 11am.

In order to get rid of the odour, she relit two partially burnt joss sticks and placed one of them between a stack of papers on a table next to the television set and the other on top of a cardboard box.

The box was next to a sofa where her mother was resting.

About an hour later, the younger daughter left the flat to buy lunch, with the television and fan in the living room switched on, the main door open and all the windows of the living room closed.

She returned home to find the flat on fire. SCDF officers arrived at the scene within seven minutes of a police report being made, and fought the flames for about 20 minutes.

They found Mdm Lim's body in the living room and pronounced her dead at about 1pm. Her family was unable to identify her but DNA profiling confirmed her identity. 

She had suffered burns over 95 per cent of her body, the court heard, and the cause of death was certified as inhalation of products of combustion.


In his investigation report, Lt-Col Ang advised members of the public to always burn incense paper, candles, joss sticks and other items for prayers in appropriate receptacles such as an incense burner or metal container.

These receptacles should be placed on sturdy ground and at a safe distance away from combustible items like newspapers, furniture, paper or plastic.

Before leaving the home, people should make sure that any smouldering embers are completely extinguished, he said.

If burning of such items is done outdoors, the public should avoid placing the burning joss sticks or candles on grass patches or fields.

He also recommended that a small fire extinguisher should be placed in homes to put out fires.

The coroner found that there was no basis to suspect foul play, and that the accidental fire was caused by embers from the joss stick, while cardboard boxes and other combustible items nearby acted as ignition fuel.

She declared Mdm Lim's death an unfortunate misadventure and extended her condolences to her family for their loss.

Source: CNA/ll