Couple killed in California wildfire wed 75 years; graduated from UW

UPDATE (WKOW) -- An elderly couple originally from Wisconsin are among the more than a dozen people dead from the California wildfires.

100-year-old Charles Rippey and his 98-year-old wife, Sara, had been married for 75 years.

According to their son Mike, they met in grade school and both attended the University of Wisconsin.

They married in 1942 before Charles left to serve in the US Army during World War II.

Years later, the couple eventually moved to Napa County, California where they lived for decades.

Tragically this past week, they died together as the wildfires engulfed their home in flames. 

"My father was sleeping in a different room and we found him halfway to her room and so he never made it," said Mike Rippey, the couple's son. "There was no way he was going to leave her."

Rippey says his parents lived a long life and were happy right up until the last minute.


NAPA, Calif. (AP) - Mike Rippey stood among pieces of metal, porcelain and other remnants of the California home where his 100-year-old father and 98-year-old mother had died in the raging wine country wildfires.

Rippey said Tuesday his brother had discovered their bodies after driving to the home and managing to get past security.

He said his father Charles appeared to be heading to the room of his mother, Sara, when he was overcome by the smoke and flames.

"My father certainly wouldn't have left her," Mike Rippey said.

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.

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.

Mike Rippey said his mother had previously suffered a stroke.

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 nearly 200 have been reported missing in Sonoma County alone, though many may be safe but unable to use damaged communication systems.

Mike Rippey was in London and boarding a flight to California when his brother 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."

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