Carmen and Armando Berriz turned in just before 11 p.m. Sunday after a day sitting by the pool and playing board games, unaware of the fiery blaze unfolding just over the ridge that ultimately would trap them.
The Southern California residents were vacationing with their daughter, Monica Ocon, and her family at a home on Crystal Court in Mark West Springs when the wind-fueled fire broke out late Sunday. Luis Ocon, their son-in-law, was still up when he noticed outside his window that embers were falling.
“I thought they were fireflies,” said Ocon, 53, of Salinas. “Then it registered. There are no fireflies out here.”
He bolted out of bed, waking his wife, who then ran to get her parents and 26-year-old daughter out of the house. As they raced to their cars, Ocon said he turned around to shut the front door and saw “a wall of fire” through windows at the rear of the house. Flames stretched 30 to 40 feet high.
Ocon took the lead driving down the winding road while his wife and daughter followed in a second car. His in-laws, who were from Apple Valley near Victorville, followed behind them, but didn’t make it far. Their car got stuck in a ditch, Ocon said.
Carmen Berriz, 75, trusted her husband of 55 years when he turned to her in the car and told her to run to the pool.
“She responded, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Ocon said, recounting the story his father-in-law shared in the hospital after suffering second- and third-degree burns. “They fought to survive. They said they were going to do everything they could to see their kids.”
Nearby, Arthur Tasman Grant, 95, and his wife, Suiko Grant, 75, sought safety in their underground wine cellar. After receiving an automated call to evacuate that night, longtime friend Dick Vogel had attempted to wake the Grants, who had lived on his street before moving a mile away to Sundown Trail four decades ago.
Vogel said his son eventually reached the couple, but the pair wasn’t able to flee after a tree blew across the driveway.
“They tried to leave but they couldn’t get out,” said Vogel, who barely escaped as the Tubbs fire roared toward his home on Donner Drive.
He said his friends’ bodies were found in the wine cellar, along with the remains of their dog, Lulu.
The fire also killed another one of Vogel’s neighbors — Sharon Rae Robinson, 79. The petite woman’s daughter searched for days before finally posting a Facebook message Thursday that her mother did not make it out of her home that night.
The search continues for victims of the deadly North Bay fires, which have claimed at least 41 lives, 22 of them in Sonoma County.
There still are 53 reports of missing people, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon. Sheriff Rob Giordano said 200 search-and -rescue personnel are on the ground, including 100 from the National Guard.
Missing cases also have been divided by jurisdiction. Santa Rosa police are handling the 26 missing-person reports within the city limits, while the Sheriff’s Office is handling the 27 people reported missing in the unincorporated area. Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder said an FBI search and rescue unit will be searching the Fountaingrove area.
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