SANTA ROSA, Calif. - A couple married for 55 years were forced back into their Santa Rosa, California, vacation home after a fire swept through their area. The woman ultimately died in her husband’s arms as they took refuge in the swimming pool.
CNN reported that Armando and Carmen Berriz were vacationing in their hillside rental home when a wildfire engulfed their house. They were three days into their vacation with their family when the fire occurred, according to The Associated Press.
Luis Ocon, the Berriz’s son-in-law, told the San Francisco Chronicle he woke up around 1 a.m. Monday and saw embers falling to the ground when he looked out the window.
“It’s hard to explain unless you were there,” Luis told CNN. “It went from embers to complete engulfment, completely around us, in 30 seconds, 40 seconds at most.”
Ocon woke his in-laws, wife, Monica Ocon, and daughter. They all left in the pajamas they had on, rushing to their cars. Ocon went to one car and his wife and daughter got into another. Luis Ocon said he saw Armando Berriz, 76, and Carmen Berriz, 75, get into their car and drive behind him.
In thick smoke, Luis Ocon stopped at the bottom of the hill and waited for his in-laws with his wife and daughter.
Monica Ocon went ahead to a friend’s house at Luis Ocon’s suggestion, and he turned back around to find his in-laws, but fires forced him to turn back around. On the way back, he ran into Jason Novak, a Cal Fire firefighter who took his number and promised to look for the Berrezs.
The family later found out a fallen tree forced the couple to exit their vehicle and walked hand in hand back to their house. They jumped into the pool to get away from the heat and flames and stayed in for hours, coming up for air. Carmen Berriz clung to her husband as he held her in the pool.
The family thinks smoke inhalation led to Carmen Berriz’s death. She died in her husband’s arms. According to Monica Berriz, her mother always had issues with her lungs.
“She was an incredible mother, a phenomenal friend, a mentor to the family,” Luis Ocon said. “She was the glue that held everybody together. She was my wife’s best friend.”
Novak texted the family told them to head to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where they were reunited with Armando Berriz, who told them Carmen Berriz had died.
“He was consoling us instead of us consoling him,” Luis Ocon told CNN. “He was amazing and full of strength.”
Armando Berriz has since been released from the hospital and is recovering at his Salinas, California, home.
“Everything they did was as a team,” Monica Ocon told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They had this bond and this strength that literally lasted a lifetime.”
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