Fundraiser begins following couple’s tragic death in Port Arthur house fire

Published 3:24 pm Monday, April 17, 2023

A man and woman found dead following a Port Arthur house fire have been identified, both were in their 70s.

They are Antonio Mendoza, 70, and his wife Teresa Maldonado, 74.

The couple’s granddaughter, Maria Ortiz, said her grandparents were “the sweetest and kindest persons ever; they would always smile and try to help everyone they could.”

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She created a gofundme fundraiser to help with family funeral and response efforts.

Justice of the Peace Tom Gillam III has ordered an autopsy.

Police say the two were inside a house that caught fire at about 2:35 a.m. in the 4000 block of Griffing Drive.

Port Arthur Fire Chief Greg Benson said when crews arrived there was heavy fire in the front and back of the house.

The man and woman were found inside.

Port Arthur Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III, whose district includes the Griffing Park area, said he received a call of the house fire and at first it was thought that four people were in the home at the time of the fire. Firefighters later learned there was two occupants.

Officials have identified two people found dead after a Sunday morning house fire. (Mary Meaux/The News)

“This is so unfortunate and a tragedy,” Kinlaw said. “As a councilmember this breaks my heart. That’s my district and I ride in my district a lot and have seen that house. We will continue to pray for the family.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the fire department.

When Axel Aguirre looked out from his Griffing Drive home early Sunday morning, he saw flames coming out a front room window and heard glass breaking at a neighbor’s home. Aguirre said his sister alerted him to the house fire across the street and she said she heard someone yell. Raylynn Brooks, Aguirre’s girlfriend, said she was asleep when the fire occurred and didn’t hear anything.

Aguirre and Brooks were saddened to hear two people died in that fire in the 4000 block of Griffing Drive. Aguirre and Brooks said they’ve seen a man and woman at the house outside periodically, adding on Saturday their across-the-street neighbors had visitors over. Michael Lloyd, who lives on nearby Forest Drive, was on his front porch early Sunday but didn’t see the fire. He did see the barricades first responders placed down the street to block the area while allowing some people go through.

“I feel for the family,” Lloyd said when hearing that two people died in the fire.