Bukit Ho Swee Fire
#onthisday in 1961, at around 3.30pm, a small fire that began at a makeshift squatter hut on Kampong Tiong Bahru Road spread to neighbouring Bukit Ho Swee, where almost 20,000 people were in attap huts at the time. With the strong winds that afternoon, the fire quickly intensified, engulfing the settlement and forcing residents to flee.
180 firemen, 20 officers, 22 fire engines were quickly deployed to fight the fire, and nearly 1,000 army personnel arrived to control the crowd. But Bukit Ho Swee was destroyed that day: 4 people died, 85 were injured, around 16,000 were left homeless, and more than 2,200 houses destroyed.
Yet, a collective, community spirit emerged from the ashes. Some of the first-responders who put out the blaze were Singapore Civil Defence Force volunteers who served in the Auxiliary Fire Service. People from all over Singapore also came together to support relief efforts and raise funds for those who had lost their homes in the fire.
After the fire, army trucks delivered 6,000 blankets, 3,000 mattresses, and food and cutlery to relief centres. Singapore General Hospital, along with other organisations, set up a clinic at Kim Seng West School, and treated more than 200 cases in the first six hours. Volunteers also helped to man food and drink lines at the relief centres. Beyond Social Services was formed by a Buddhist monk, Catholic missionaries, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran pastors and service clubs in the wake of the accident.
It didn’t just stop there. Efforts continued over the years to rebuild the lives of the Bukit Ho Swee families. By Feb 1962, they were given new homes in Queenstown, Tiong Bahru and Kallang. The fire was also the impetus for the government to build safer homes for Singaporeans. So by 1967, Bukit Ho Swee was developed into a new residential area with modern flats.
The Bukit Ho Swee fire is now known by many as one of the biggest fires in Singapore. But it was also an incident that demonstrated a tenacity that comes of banding together, through adversity, and reflected how we are — and have always been — stronger, together. #WeAreTotalDefence