Woman Dies in Husband's Arms in Wildfire-Flanked Pool - NECN
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Woman Dies in Husband's Arms in Wildfire-Flanked Pool

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    NEWSLETTERS

    One of the saddest stories to come out of the North Bay wildfires is of a couple that was married for more than 50 years who took refuge in a pool to escape fast-moving flames. (Published Monday, Oct. 16, 2017)

    One of the saddest stories to come out of the North Bay wildfires is of a California couple, married for more than 50 years, who took refuge in a pool to escape fast-moving flames last week.

    Carmen and Armando Berriz were visiting from Southern California and enjoying a vacation at a rented home near Santa Rosa's Fountaingrove neighborhood Monday. Unable to see through the smoke, the childhood sweethearts held each other in the swimming pool for five hours as flames roared around them, their daughter said.

    Carmen, 75, was too weak, possibly from smoke inhalation, and died in her husband's arms.

    "They did that together," said the couple's daughter, Monica Berriz Ocon. "That was their strength, that was the beauty behind their relationship and everything they did."

    Armando Berriz survived with second-degree burns.

    He is not the only person to survive the wildfires by diving into a pool. Jan and John Pascoe spent six hours in a neighbor's pool in Santa Rosa last week, putting T-shirts over their faces as they bobbed up for air, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

    Carmen Berriz, of Apple Valley, was identified as a victim of the fire on Thursday. 

    She and her husband initially escaped the home in a caravan of three vehicles with Ocon and other members of the family. But they were separated from the group and ended back at the pool, Ocon told NBC News

    Her father told her that God gave him the idea to get to the pool: "He and my mom grabbed each other's arms, hands and they ran to the pool. It was the only thing that was not aflame — it was the only path he had, and he went there with my mom, and they jumped in."

    They held their heads under the water and came up for breath, though "the fire was so intense that there was no air to breathe," Ocon said.

    Eventually, Carmen Berriz lost her strength, but Armando continued to hold on to her in the pool, where she had what Ocon said was a peaceful death. "We feel very blessed that that's how it happened," Ocon said.

    It wasn't the only challenge the Berrizes weathered together, fleeing Cuba in their youth.