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Burglar bars hamper rescue in fatal Dallas house fire

Burglar bars could not be breached early Monday at a south Dallas house fire where a woman was found dead in her bathtub, according to reports.

Velma Miller, 76, who was known as a pillar of the neighborhood, was found by firefighters inside her home in the 2900 block of Bardwell Avenue, said Sherrie Lopez, spokeswoman for Dallas Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were called at 5:18 a.m. to the fire, Lopez said. The neighborhood is near the intersection of Kiest Boulevard and Illinois Avenue in southeast Dallas.

"The first engine company came and they saw lots of fire coming out of the front and right side of the house," Lopez said. "But there were burglar bars all the way around the house."

The bars prevented quick entry through windows, Lopez said, so firefighters went to the back where they found more bars on windows.

"They went back to the front, and they pushed and shoved and used pry bars (on the front door)," Lopez said.

Firefighters found Miller in her bathtub, Lopez said, but they could not save her.

"It seems like the elderly folks will go in the bathtub and run the shower," Lopez said. "That's common, but that's not a safe haven. People need an exit plan and two ways to get out."

A relative of the woman, either of nephew or a grandson, was in the house during the fire and escaped with the help of another relative who lived on the property, possibly in a "detached area," Lopez said.

Miller's two relatives were young men or teenagers, Lopez said, but she did not know exactly how they were related to the woman.

Investigators had not determined what caused the fire, she added, but they ruled out electricity because there was no power going to the house Monday morning. She did not know why.

The home had smoke detectors, which are battery operated, but they were melted by flames, Lopez said.

"So," she said, "we don't know if they were operable."

Lopez could not confirm broadcast reports that Miller lived in the one story-home since 1963.

"I did hear one of the neighbors say she was like one of the moms in the neighborhood," Lopez said. "It didn't matter who you were, she'd help you, and she was just a pillar in the neighborhood.

"During the investigation we had more and more family members literally running down the sidewalk. They were just filled with emotion and it was a sad thing to see.

"It's a terrible way to lose a loved one."