A Ladysmith area man died in a house fire last Wednesday. The victim was Robert J. Miller, Jr., 79, of Ladysmith.
“He was an incredible father, grandfather and great grandfather,” said Robert’s granddaughter, Alexa Williams. Her aunt and two cousins narrowly escaped the blaze.
The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call of a residence at W7465 Flambeau Point Road, fully engulfed with fire at about 12:46 a.m. on June 6 and there may still be someone inside.
Dispatchers reported hearing a voice in the background during the first 911 call to jump out the window. Three family members were able to escape, but Miller was not.
After further investigation, at about 8 a.m., a body was located in the burned residence. An autopsy was requested to help identify the subject.
When Ladysmith Fire Chief Kyle Gibbs pulled into the driveway and saw the structure totally in flames he knew there would not be an interior attack on the flames. Fighting the fire would be only from the outside perimeter.
“Totally engulfed, the whole house was, which you don’t see too often like that but it was totally engulfed,” Gibbs said. “Once you hear there is somebody inside there it a totally different situation. You are thinking you can maybe have a chance to save somebody in that situation”
“It is kind of tough to comprehend there is somebody inside there and you really can’t do much to get them out. It is tough. It is a bad scenario,” Gibbs said. “Sometimes you are hoping you can get in there and be able to search to find them quick enough but in this scenario it was totally engulfed. We were pretty limited.”
The exact point of origin for the fire has not yet been determined, according to Gibbs. He said firefighters tapped into 45,000 gallons of water while fighting the flames.
“It’s pretty hard to tell because it was totally engulfed when we got there,” Gibbs said.
Hawkins and Bruce fire departments provided mutual aid with tankers and manpower.
Ladysmith Fire Department remained on the scene until 10:30 a.m.
Gibbs offered condolences to the family.
“These are not very good calls to go on. That is for sure, You are always thinking you can try and save something or someone, but you can’t,” Gibbs said. “Even getting close to it, it was a hot fire. Very hot.”
The Rusk County Sheriffs Department, ambulances from Ladysmith-Sheldon and Hawkins, Rusk County Medical Examiner and Wisconsin State Fire Marshals office also responded.
The house and its contents were a total loss. It is owned by Aliesha and Brian Miller.
The cause is still undetermined, according to Gibbs. “It is probably going to be undetermined,” he said.
Bob was a graduate of Tony High School. He was an avid gardener, and he loved making maple syrup.
His son, Joseph, described his father as a man with flaws, but a real man.
“He was a real father, a real friend, a real co-worker and a real person. That really sums him up in a nutshell,” Joseph said. “He was a man’s man, and family was everything to him, That was his most important accomplishment in life. What was most important to him was his children and grandchildren.”
He had eight children.
Joseph intends to carry on his father’s popular tradition of hosting pig roasts in the area, perhaps the next being at a fundraiser for the VMA. He has done pig roasts for about 30 years.
“I will continue on with the pig roastings that were important to him,” Joseph said. “He would get the meat and provide the services free of charge for them. We have probably done 40 or 50 over the years.”
Bob custom mixed up his own brand of old world spices for the cookouts.
“He more or less has always volunteered. He never really charged,” Joseph said.
The spice recipe has been handed down to the next generation of the Miller Family.
“If I didn’t have that what good would the cooker do,” Joseph said.
The fire remains under investigation. Foul play is not suspected.
A memorial service for Robert will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 17 at the Masonic Lodge in Ladysmith. A lunch will follow.