Beijing: A 48-year-old woman, whose unlicensed orphanage in central China caught fire and left seven, including children dead, on Sunday said she has a "clear conscience" and would not abandon her charity work.
"Dozens of children would have died if I had not taken them in. I have a clear conscience," Yuan Lihai, known as "Mother of 100 babies", said refuting allegations that she neglected children.
Yuan from Lankao County in Henan Province has hit the headlines this week after the fire accident at her home, which she has converted into an orphanage for the past 26-year adopting over 100 abandoned children.
A divorcee, Yuan has two sons and a daughter, but no stable income, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The fire broke out in her two-story home on Friday when she was taking the older children to school. Seven people, including children aged seven months to five years and one 20-year-old man, died in the fire.
A 10-year-old boy nicknamed "Xiao Shi" narrowly survived with injuries to his respiratory system. He remains in intensive care at a hospital in Kaifeng, the city with jurisdiction over Lankao County.
The children were left at home unattended when the fire broke out. "I hired a nurse to help me look after the kids, but she had a second job at the county hospital. So, she left every morning after preparing the children`s breakfast."
Yuan`s biological daughter called her about the fire. "I ran home and was desperate to dash into the flames, but passed out."
Eighteen homeless children and young people were staying with her at the time of the accident. Most of them have congenital diseases ranging from infantile paralysis and albinism to heart disease. Some are mentally handicapped.
The 10 who were not harmed in the fire have been relocated to a welfare home in Kaifeng.
Yuan, who is currently hospitalised after facing breathing difficulties last night, refuted widespread speculation that she had unlawfully profited in under-the-table adoption deals.
"Shoot me if you have evidence that I sold any children," she said.
She began taking in homeless children, including orphans and abandoned children, in the 1980s but never went through formal adoption procedures.
She raised at least 100 children with the money she earned by selling homemade pancakes and other snacks, allowances granted by the government to support the children and some donations from individuals.
"They are all like my own children and I miss them terribly," Yuan said through tears.
"Do you think I can see a child die from cold and hunger out there in the street?" she said when asked if she would continue her charity work. "I will certainly give a hand as long as I`m still alive."
Wu Changsheng, the deputy head of the county said local civil affairs departments bore "unshirkable responsibilities" for the tragedy.
Wu told state-run Global Times newspaper that from a legal perspective, Yuan with her own children, was not qualified to adopt a child.
Yuan`s whose husband has left for because of her compassion for abandoned children said that civil affairs bureau allowed her to adopt these children as there is no other arrangement but at the same helped her with some assistance even though inadequate.