Seven die in fire at unlicensed orphanage in Henan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2013, 8:06am

Seven children have died in a fire at an unlicensed private orphanage near Kaifeng, Henan province, Xinhua reports.

The fire broke out at about 8.30am yesterday when Yuan Lihai, owner of the orphanage, was taking several children to primary school, a spokesman for Lankao county's government said.

Four children died in the fire and three died on the way to the hospital. Another is in critical condition in hospital. State media said the dead children included five boys and two girls, all aged four or five.

The spokesman said it was unclear how many children were in the house when the fire broke out and how many were injured. Rescuers are still investigating the cause of the fire.

Yuan, a 48-year-old street vendor, was known in Lankao for sheltering abandoned children, especially those with disabilities, in her dilapidated stall near a public hospital in Lankao.

Yuan was not considered qualified to adopt abandoned children by Lankao's government, and authorities had arranged for a Kaifeng government welfare home to take in five children two years ago.

Yuan was said to have 34 children - 21 boys and 13 girls - in her care, of which 16 were handicapped or sick, Xinhua quoted Lankao civil affairs officials as saying. Yuan hired workers to take care of the children.

Yuan made national headlines two years ago for adopting more than 100 abandoned babies since 1986. In an interview with Henan Business Daily in 2011 , Yuan said she was left with 39 children after the older ones got married and moved out, but there was still not enough space and some had to live with her relatives.

Yuan said she started adopting children nearly 30 years ago. Many of the children were sick, and some had been left at the entrance to the hospital where she had her stall. Over the years, word spread and some babies were left directly at her door. Sometimes hospitals and even police sent abandoned infants to her.

Yuan told the Henan Business Daily that she would not send the children to government foster homes because she had formed such strong bonds with the children she had raised since they were babies.