BY HENRY MILLER
This story was updated at 3:38 p.m., Sunday, July 22
MISSION — Three people were killed and four more were injured in a house fire that broke out at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday here at 10900 Karen St., near Mile 9 Road and Bentsen Palm Drive.
Maria Izabel Maldonado, 37, her 5-year-old son Gustavo Maldonado and 15-year-old Johnathan Palomarez, a family friend from La Feria, were killed in the fire, according to Hidalgo County Fire Marshal Department Investigator John Franz.
Four others were injured in the blaze, including an adult male and a pre-teen boy, who were flown to the San Antonio burn clinic in critical condition. A 14-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy, believed to be the twin brother of Gustavo Maldonado, were transported to a local hospital to be treated.
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department, the Alton Fire Department and McAllen Fire Department all responded to the three-bedroom, one bath home. While the home’s address is in Mission, it is within the Alton Fire Department’s jurisdiction, Franz said.
Deep charring helped authorities determine the possible source of the blaze, according to Franz, but the cause is still under investigation
“The fire completely consumed the home,” Franz said. “We can tell that it started in the living room on the northwest corner of the home. It looks like they (the deceased) tried to escape but couldn’t.”
Franz was quick to praise those who responded to the deadly inferno.
“They showed a complete disregard for their own safety,” Franz said. “One of the deputies ran into the home, took in smoke but was able to rescue one of those inside the home.”
The 14-year-old girl also saved one of the twins by handing him through a broken window to an Alton firefighter before she was rescued from the fire.
“If it wasn’t for the quick reaction of those on the scene, I can guarantee you that there would have been four fatalities instead of three,” Franz said. “That sheriff’s deputy went through a window and stuck it out until the end and passed the person to a waiting firefighter.
“There was a lot of valor and heroism among the family members trying to save each other and among the first responders who showed up.”
Franz added that the style of the home, constructed mostly of brick, made the fire hotter and deadlier.
“Most of the interior walls were also brick and that insulated the home even more,” Franz said. “Normally with a fire of this magnitude, if there’s wood then the fire will lose heat but with it being all brick, it just turned the inside into an oven.”
The home did not have any fire detectors. Franz also said that when a fire breaks out, while there are many people trying to help, it’s best that they wait for responders.
“Fire detectors may have helped, so we want to remind everyone that if they don’t have them, to get them. For those who have them, check the batteries and test them on a regular basis,” he said. “Also, there are a lot of good Samaritans out there who sometimes do something that will make it inadvertently harder on us, like going and breaking windows to try to let smoke out.
“But when that happens, it is introducing oxygen to the fire and making that fire spread faster and it be-comes more difficult for the responders to get into the house.”