Zoe called again at midnight: “You guys need to get out.”
“I looked out the window,” Jan said, “and all I saw was a red glow. I said, ‘John, we’ve got to get out of here.’”
She scooped up their 17-year-old cat and ran to her Mercedes-Benz sedan. John got in his truck. They drove down their long driveway to Heights Road.
“It was a wall of flames,” Jan said. They drove back up and parked next to their 1,800-square-foot house. When Jan opened her car door, the cat leaped out and has not been seen since.
Their mountaintop home was built like a boat with small rooms on 11 levels. It was filled with dozens of John’s paintings. Each room was designed to remind them of places they’d encountered during their travels. One had tatami mats, an idea from a restaurant in Bangkok. Their bedroom was inspired by a house they’d rented on Thailand’s Ko Samui Island. Their expansive decks, the site of countless parties over nearly four decades, offered spectacular views of the hills.
Wind-driven flames were closing in.
“We were in survival mode,” Jan said. “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”
I met the Pascoes on Wednesday evening at Zoe’s house in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood. They were clean and composed, a handsome couple in borrowed clothes.
They sat side by side on an overstuffed couch, holding hands, recounting the night they could have died. Occasionally, John’s eyes filled with tears. The depth of their loss had not quite sunk in.
The only physical hint of their trauma was the color of Jan’s feet, still soot-stained despite a perfect pedicure. Jan wore a cozy, soft sweatshirt, and shivered. “We can’t get warm,” she said.
On Sunday night, Zoe, 38, and her sister, Mia, 32, had spent excruciating hours on the phone — with each other, hospitals, shelters, friends and relatives.
At 7 a.m. Monday, Zoe looked at her husband and said, “Do you think they are gone? Do you think I need to prepare myself for this?”
An hour and a half later, they got word that their parents had survived.
“We started sobbing,” Mia said.
“I started screaming,” Zoe said. “The first thing mom said to me was ‘I feel so bad I wasn’t able to get ahold of you.’ ‘You’re apologizing to me? After all you’ve been through?’”
John and Jan Pascoe survived the firestorm Monday morning by running out of their home and into their neighbors swimming pool in Santa Rosa. Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
At first light, the Pascoes had been in the pool for about six hours. When the worst seemed to be over, John slipped Jan’s melted shoes onto his feet as best he could and picked his way up the hill to see their house. It was gone.
All his paintings. The Chihuly bowls. Everything.
When I made my way to their house Wednesday, I saw their burned-out car and truck sitting on rims. I drove about a third of a mile to their neighbors’ house and saw the pool from the driveway.
The whole scene looked like the aftermath of the apocalypse. The childproof fencing was in tatters. The water looked toxic. At the far end of the pool, on the decking, a life-size statue of a cherubic angel made it through the fire unscathed.
The Pascoes had no idea how widespread and destructive the Tubbs fire had been. Entire neighborhoods had been laid to waste between their home and Highway 101, a distance of about five miles.
John was naked but for the T-shirt he wore when he jumped into the pool. His clothes had blown away. He fashioned Jan’s tank top into a loincloth. “I made a diaper out of it,” he said.
Jan wore her pajama bottoms and the T-shirt she’d draped over her head.
Their faces were sooty. Their blondish gray hair was blackened and matted from all the soot and ash. It was about 55 degrees. They were wet, cold and barefoot. But they were alive.
“We held hands,” John said, “and walked out.”