Wang Qiquan is a decorated earthquake volunteer, but he cannot return to his Sichuan home for fear of losing his freedom. 'I'm an honest and hard-working man. Why is this happening to me?' said the devastated 40-year-old petitioner who used to run a profitable flour-processing business. 'I wanted to be co-operative. I wanted to support the country.' Mr Wang's problems stem from his demand for justice over a fire that killed his 11-year-old daughter and five-year-old son six years ago. Looking at a Red Cross honorary volunteer certificate, he recalled how he immediately joined the relief volunteer troops after the quake struck Sichuan in May. He hoped that helping children who had lost families and homes would ease his own pain. He sold his remaining flour- processing equipment, borrowed 2,000 yuan from relatives, bought oil, vegetables and other essentials, headed into the mountains and threw himself deeply into relief work. But it did not make the pain go away. The scenes of what happened in the early hours of October 25, 2002, kept replaying in Mr Wang's mind. He remembered how he was woken in the middle of the night by a sizzling sound and discovered that sparks were shooting from old, damaged wires in the office that also served as his home in Dongxing district, Neijiang . He rushed out into the corridor to switch off the floor's electricity but when he returned the flat was engulfed in flames. He could not get inside and the fire brigade took 40 minutes to arrive. His two children and an employee boarding at the flat were carried out dead, their clothes unscathed. They had died from smoke inhalation. Mr Wang blamed the deaths on the fire brigade's delayed arrival and the inaction of his landlord, who had refused to replace the substandard wires for more than a year. But the Neijiang Intermediate People's Court ruled in July 2003 that Mr Wang was responsible for the fire. He said someone destroyed the scene right after the blaze, but a report from the fire department that took three months to produce said he caused the fire by storing flammable materials in the flat. Before the judgment - a one-year jail term suspended for two years - Mr Wang spent five months in a detention centre in Neijiang after he attempted to petition in Beijing. Sichuan police lured him back saying they would resolve his problems but confiscated his identity card on his return and refused to issue a new one until 2006, restricting his travel to within the province. Now he dares not return home. He worries that he will be locked up again. His brother in Neijiang said village officials were trying to determine the petitioner's whereabouts as recently as the end of last month, promising that they would resolve his grievance if he showed up in person. But Mr Wang and his brother thought this was another trap. 'These several years I've been in immense pain,' Mr Wang said. 'I've got a home but I can't return to it. My children were killed in a fire, and my wife left me. Even when my mother passed away last year, I couldn't go home to mourn.' Mr Wang has developed a liver problem from his five-month detention and years of living in hiding. He made his most recent petition attempt in Beijing immediately after the Olympics, however he was removed from the Central Disciplinary Committee petition office by the Sichuan officers and locked in a dirty, poorly ventilated underground room for a week. Twice a day an officer threatened him with continued detention if he did not return to Sichuan. The officer promised to urge Dongxing district to handle his grievance properly. He finally signed a pledge that he would stop petitioning authorities. An official with the Neijiang representative office in Beijing denied yesterday that Mr Wang had been detained and refused to give further details. The official said Mr Wang would not be locked up again if he returned to Neijiang and that he was detained last time because he was a criminal. Mr Wang's treatment was in sharp contrast to a lavish ceremony hosted by President Hu Jintao last week to thank all those who helped after the earthquake. Even though Mr Wang was thankful for the central government's kind words, he said he had less faith in the local government. 'I don't trust them; they are too corrupt,' he said. 'I'm scared of being locked up, but I won't give up. I must seek justice for my children.'