Couple Wed for 75 Years Killed When Fast-Moving Fire Overwhelmed Napa Home

A World War II veteran and his wife, who had been married for 75 years, died Sunday when they were unable to make it out of their Napa home before it was engulfed in flames.

Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara Rippey, 98, lived in the Silverado Residential Community for 40 years, according to their son, Chuck Rippey.

The couple’s caregiver tried to get to them out of the house, but ran out of time.

“Before she knew it, the roof was caving in,” he said. “So it was very fast, very fast.”

Chuck Rippey said the caregiver called him as the fire ravaged the house.

“She went down to get my father and all the windows started to explode and (there was) smoke and heat and all that everywhere,” he said. “She just couldn’t find them.”

Charles Rippey enjoyed playing tennis and going out to eat, but he loved his wife most of all, said Chuck Rippey, who took solace in the knowledge that his parents were together until the very end.

Despite the intense heat and smoke in the house and his need for a walker, Chuck Rippey said his father appeared to be heading to his mother's room. He almost made it to her side. That’s where he found their bodies.

"My father certainly wouldn't have left her," said Mike Rippey, the couple's second son. 

The couple had met in grade school in Wisconsin and been together ever since, celebrating their 75th anniversary last year.

Rippey, 71, said he and his siblings couldn't imagine how either parent would have navigated life if just one had survived the flames.

"We knew there's no way they would ever be happy, whoever was the last one. So they went together, and that's the way it worked," he said stoically.

In the charred remains of the home, only metal and porcelain survived to testify to the couple's long life together. There were coffee cups along a low sill; two metal chairs, side-by-side by a patio table; and a porcelain tea set of white and soft washes of blue, some pieces still intact.

Charles Rippey — nicknamed "Peach" as a toddler for his chubby cheeks — and his wife were among the 17 victims who have died in the fierce, fast-moving fires that started on Sunday and raged through neighborhoods. None of the other victims had been identified.

Mike Rippey said his mother had previously suffered a stroke.

He was in London and boarding a flight to California when his brother, Chuck Rippey, called and told him their parents had died.

The couple attended the University of Wisconsin and married in 1942 before Charles Rippey served as a U.S. Army engineer in World War II. He became an executive with the Firestone tire company.

Rippey said he had no plans to rebuild the home.

"Without them, it doesn't mean a thing,'' he said. "It's gone. They're gone.''

Authorities are expecting other older people to be among the dead, who like the Rippeys might not have been able to move fast enough to beat the flames.

Seventeen wildfires raging across parts of seven counties have destroyed more than 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures.

The wildfires rank among the five deadliest in California history, and officials expect the death toll to rise as the scope of destruction becomes clear.

At least 185 people were injured, and more than 300 have been reported missing in Sonoma County alone, though many may be safe but unable to use damaged communication systems.

NBC Bay Area's Rhea Mahbubani contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us