UPDATED | April 7, 2016 11:02 AM

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – An elderly woman is dead after a house fire in east Oak Cliff on Wednesday, and her neighbors could only watch in horror as the home and the victim burned. The incident happened at around 11:30 p.m. in the 2300 block of Blue Creek Drive.

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Flames and smoke were pouring from the house when emergency crews first arrived at the scene. They had been told that one person might be trapped inside of the burning structure, but it was already too late. Neighbors of 81-year-old Johnnye Hughes looked on helplessly as the woman tried and failed to get out from behind locked burglary bars.

Laquinn Lovely’s wife was returning home from work when she heard small explosions coming from inside of the house. She got her husband to help as she called 911. Lovely ran across the street and saw Hughes trapped on her porch behind the burglar bars..

Lovely desperately attempted to rescue Hughes, but the flames were just too intense. Hughes died as horrified neighbors watched on. “She couldn’t get outside the burglar bars,” recalled Lovely. “She had the key, but she couldn’t through the fire and stuff. She was panicking, and the fire, she couldn’t get the bars open.”

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Johnnye Hughes (credit: CBSDFW.COM)

According to her neighbors, Hughes lived alone and stayed locked inside of her home most of the time.

Family members, who arrived at the home later Thursday morning to comb the debris, said Hughes worked for Dallas County for many years and that she was well known in the community. But they also said that in recent years Hughes would lock herself in the house, trusting very few people.
Hughes’ niece, Rachelle Alexander, said she wouldn’t even give family members a key to the locked security gate. “I hate that no one was here to help her. You know, we were always saying, ‘Johnnye we need a key to get in. We need a key! At least let someone know, if you don’t want family to know, let someone know that you can get in here.'”

Lovely is still traumatized by the late night events. “Couldn’t do nothing… I’m messed up right now. I was right there. I know my wife was worse than I am, because you’re right there and you couldn’t help her.”

Fire investigators are still trying to determine exactly what started the blaze, but some of Hughes family members said the woman was a smoker and believe the fire may have been sparked by cigarettes.

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