One California couple survived the recent Tubbs fire by hiding in their neighbor’s swimming pool. Jan and John Pascoe, a retired couple living in Santa Rosa California, stayed in the pool for six hours as the so-called “fire hurricane” raged around them.
Over 22 wildfires have raged through the state over the last month, but the Tubbs fire was particularly destructive. Scott Upton, the northern region chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, reports “trees ripped out of the ground, cars turned over, garage doors ripped off their hinges and wrapped around trees in the front yards.” As flames were driven by strong winds, the rising heat pulled the wind up with it and created a “fire tornado.”
At 10 pm on October 12th, the Pascoes were not aware of the fire’s reach and destructive capabilities. Faced with a clear night and no official alerts, they decided to stay put. Two hours later, their daughter Zoe called them, begging them to get out. But by then, there was “a wall of flames” at the end of their road, leaving the couple with no escape route.
In desperation, the couple called a dispatcher before jumping into their neighbor’s swimming pool. They stayed underwater as much as possible to avoid the burning debris raining down on them, and held wet t-shirts over their head to stay protected when they surfaced. Even as the fire raged around them, the water was cold, and they held each other to stay warm, waiting for a rescue that never came. “In my naivete, all night long,” Jan told the LA Times, “I thought someone would come to get us.”
The aftermath of the Tubbs fire has been described as “grim” and “apocalyptic.” The fire burned 36,432 acres of land and killed at least 42 people, and recovery teams are still searching for victims. Upton says of the fire, “I’ve been in this business 30 years and it’s the worst I’ve seen.”
When they exited the pool at dawn on October 13th, the Pescoes became two of the approximately 25,000 people displaced by the flames. Their mountainside home, filled with sentimental possessions and built to remind them of their travels, was completely leveled during the firestorm.
Their daughters, Mia and Zoe, were unsure whether their parents had survived the ordeal until several days later. The couple was unable to get in touch with their children during the weekend, and the sisters had spent “hours on the phone” trying to locate them. In an interview with the LA Times, they describe the “screaming and sobbing” that accompanied the news of their survival. “The first thing mom said to me was ‘I feel so bad I wasn’t able to get ahold [sic] of you,’” Zoe said, and remembers thinking, “’You’re apologizing to me? After all you’ve been through?’”