As the raging California wildfires headed for their rental home in Santa Rosa, one couple tried to escape by jumping into the swimming pool earlier this week.
Armando and Carmen Berriz submerged themselves in the water, with just their mouths and noses peeking out from the water, CNN reports.
The couple stayed in the pool overnight as the fire roared around them.
They breathed in the smoky air and prayed together, but by the time the fire subsided, Carmen had died in her husband’s arms.
She was part of the 32 who have died in the deadliest recorded wildfire season California has ever seen. Buildings were razed and 250 people are still missing.
As of Friday afternoon, 17 major wildfires — some encompassing several smaller blazes merged together — have consumed nearly 222,000 acres of dry brush, grasslands and trees across eight counties since erupting on Sunday night.
Carmen, 75, was vacationing with her husband Armando, 76, along with her daughter Monica Ocon and family.
“Those two together were one person, and the love they had for each other was something that everybody has always admired and loved,” Ocon told CBS.
Carmen’s son-in-law said the fire sprung up like an explosion.
Luis Ocon told CNN the night before the family had played board games and hung out by the pool; no one had seen or smelled any smoke.
Ongoing coverage of the California wildfires
He said he first noticed the red glow of embers around 1 a.m. When he went to take a closer look, he saw an ember hit the grass in the yard.
“It was like an explosion,” he said. “It just lit up.”
“It went from embers to complete engulfment, completely around us, in 30 seconds, 40 seconds at most.”
The family then got in their cars and travelled down the hill in a caravan. But when Luis and Monica got to the bottom, they realized the Berrizes weren’t behind them anymore.
Carmen and Armando had encountered fallen trees, which forced them to return to the house. It was then they jumped into the pool.
Luis went back to search for them but was blocked by the fire.
“It looked like something you see in an apocalypse movie,” he said.
The couple stayed in the pool for hours, but the family believes Carmen died from smoke inhalation around 7 a.m., when the fire died down several hours later. Armando pulled Carmen out of the pool before making his way down the hill.
He was taken to hospital and treated for burns. A firefighter told the Ocons where to find him.
*with a file from Reuters
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