Pool Plunge Saves Couple From Wildfire

Roger and Dena Bielasz, of Escondido, Calif.
CBS/The Early Show
Roger and Dena Bielasz have 19 years of memories where their home used to be in Escondido, Calif.

Now, reports CBS News correspondent Seth Doane, that's all they have.

As they walked through the charred remnants of the house, Roger told Doane, "The flames were 20 feet above (the) deck, and beyond. Out by the pool, there was a fire tornado, just like in the movies."

The wildfire that would change their lives forever came without warning in the middle of the night last week. Flames raced up their hillside. They barely had time to put on their shoes.

"I was starting to panic," Dena told Doane, "and I was saying, 'Roger, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?' "

"I was saying," Roger remembered, " 'We will get out. We will get out.' "

"And he said," Dena continued, 'Hang on, hang on. OK. It's time to go. We gotta go.' "

They had multiple escape routes -- but all were blocked.

Their last resort? Plunging into the cold water of their swimming pool.

"We spent the next three-and-a-half hours under (a rock overhanging the pool)," Roger said, "inside the pool, watching everything we've ever owned burn up, and melt, actually."

"We could see where the refrigerator was standing," Dena added, "and we could see -- we literally watched it melt into the floor -- and could hear the canned goods in the pantry exploding.

"We were trembling uncontrollably, because the water was just so cold -- you were freezing -- but you knew you couldn't get out of the pool. Yet, the air was so hot -- it kept drying our heads."

As Dena and Roger took refuge in the pool, Doane says, they kept wondering whether their neighbors would be OK, since the flames had picked up so quickly.

It wouldn't be for a couple of days until they'd get the news -- the neighbors had died.

"There's no way they could have seen it coming," Dena remarked.

"Roger and Dena planned for disaster," Doane observed, "but not for the emotions that follow."

"At times," Dena says, "you can talk about it.

"... At other times," she continued, her voice cracking. "I can't even tell you what address I live at because ..."

Now crying, Dena said, "I can't ... I can't see the numbers."

But Roger and Dena say their home will rise from these ashes, built on a foundation no fire can destroy -- their love for each other.