Calif. Couple Survives Wildfire in Neighbor's Pool as 'Wall of Flames' Burned Around Them: Report - NBC Connecticut
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Calif. Couple Survives Wildfire in Neighbor's Pool as 'Wall of Flames' Burned Around Them: Report

"We were in survival mode," Jan Pascoe said

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit asks why Sonoma County never activated a mass cellphone alert that could have warned hundreds of thousands of people throughout the community to evacuate their homes during Monday’s deadly fires. Senior investigative reporter Vicky Nguyen reports in a story that first aired October 12, 2017. (Published Friday, Oct. 13, 2017)

    A California couple survived the deadly wildfire raging around them by taking shelter in their neighbors' swimming pool, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    Jan Pascoe, 65, and John Pascoe, 70, tried to flee their home in the hills above the city of Santa Rosa late Sunday as flames from one of 21 wildfires burning across the state closed in.

    The Pascoes, trapped on the mountaintop, remembered their neighbors' pool and made the decision to take shelter in the "blackened, debris-filled" water. The retired couple told the Times they held each other for warmth in the cold water as houses burned down all around them and the flames inched closer.

    "The heat was 'whoa'" John said.

    In order to protect themselves from the smoke and embers, the Pascoes told the Times they held T-shirts over their faces while bobbing in and out of the water.

    "I just kept going under," Jan explained. "And I kept saying, 'How long does it take for a house to burn down?'"

    Meanwhile the couple’s two daughters endured several agonizing hours after losing contact with their parents Sunday night, shortly after calling to urge them to evacuate.

    The pair said they first smelled smoke around 10 p.m. PT Sunday, when, according to Jan's phone, the fire was still 11 miles away and they had not received any official alerts informing residents about evacuations in their area.

    They were awakened at midnight by a call from their older daughter, Zoe Giraudo, who urged them to "get out," and by then the wind had picked up and the flames were lurking outside.

    They got in their cars, drove down their long driveway and were met with a "wall of flames," Jan told the Times.

    They had called 911 before going in the pool and throughout the night, Jan thought someone would "come to get us." But no one came.

    When they finally were able to get out six hours later, Jan told the Times the cellphone she left at the pool's edge had melted and everything around them was completely destroyed, including their home.

    Sonoma County’s Emergency Manager Christopher Helgren is facing criticism over his decision not to activate the county’s wireless emergency alert system as the deadly Tubbs Fire grew.

    Helgren told NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit that sending out a countywide alert to 500,000 residents would have done more harm than good because the area covered by such an alarm can't be restricted and far more people would have been alerted than were actually in harm's way, causing traffic jams and hampering emergency efforts.

    Instead, Sonoma County used the Soco Alert system to send a robocall to 170,000 landlines and 15,000 residents who signed up to receive notifications through the system.

    The series of fires in Northern California have destroyed 3,500 structures, and together make the deadliest week of wildfires in California history.

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    (Published Friday, Oct. 13, 2017)