'They Went Together': Couple Married 75 Years Perishes in California Wildfire

Eric Chaney
Published: October 11, 2017

Charles Rippey met his wife Sara in grade school more than 80 years ago and hardly left her side since, dying in an attempt to save her as flames from a California wildfire consumed their home in Napa over the weekend.

"My father was sleeping in a different room, and we found him halfway to her room," the couple’s son, 71-year-old Mike Rippey, told ABC News. "And so he never made it to her room. But even if he had made it, there was no way he was gonna leave her. So neither one of them was getting out."

The oldest of five siblings, Rippey told ABC News that his mother "was paralyzed, she had a stroke about five years ago, and there was no way she was getting out of this fire."

(MORE: 23 Dead, 3,500 Structures Burned as Northern California Wildfires Rage)

Charles, 100, and Sara, 98, who celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last year, both died Sunday when the fast-moving Atlas Peak fire swept into their neighborhood.

A caregiver who had cooked dinner for the couple that evening tried to rescue them, the New York Times reported. She got Sara into a wheelchair and tried to reach Charles's room, the report added.

"Before she knew it, the roof was caving in," another son, Chuck, told NBC Bay Area. "She went down to get my father and all the windows started to explode and (there was) smoke and heat and all that everywhere. She just couldn’t find them."

Even if could have made it out of the house, the prospects of survival outside were still grim.

"All the firefighters were ... trying to evacuate people," Chuck told ABC News. "There were several 8-foot in diameter trees that were across the road right here. People just jumped in their ponds and stuff and waited for the helicopter ... that's the only refuge they could find."

"If they had gotten out, in their elderly state," he added, "they would have gotten grilled out here. That's how bad it was."

Little remains of the Rippey’s home and the 35 years they spent there, the Napa Valley Register reported. Memories of Charles's service in World War II, games of tennis and golf at Napa Valley Country Club and family photos of five children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren were all reduced to ash, the report added.

(MORE: Northern California Wineries Burned by Fast-Moving Wildfires)

Only metal and porcelain survived, NBC Bay Area reported: a row of coffee cups along a window sill, metal patio chairs and a table and a few pieces of a porcelain tea set.

"Without them, it doesn't mean a thing," Mike told NBC. "It's gone. They're gone."

Still, the brothers can see a small silver lining in an otherwise horrific tragedy.

"The fact that they went together is probably what they would have wanted," Mike told the New York Times. "They just couldn’t be without each other. We kids would always talk about what it would be like if one of them died and the other was still alive."

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Featured Blogs

Meteorology of Saturday's Colombian Flood Disaster That Killed 254

By Dr. Jeff Masters
April 3, 2017

At least 254 people were killed in the in the city of Mocoa (population 40,000) in southwest Colombia near the border of Ecuador early Saturday, when torrential rains triggered a debris flow on a nearby mountain that surged into the town as a huge wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris. The disaster is the fourth deadliest weather-related disaster in Colombia’s recorded history.

Iconic American Destination Virtually Isolated for Rest of Year

By Christopher C. Burt
March 24, 2017

Half of the village of Big Sur, on the coast of central California, has lost its only access to the north following the demolition of the flood-damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge along State Route 1 (also Rt. 1 or SR 1) on March 19. Although Rt. 1 to the south of Big Sur has reopened to traffic (after mud and rock slides were cleared) it is a long 70-mile journey along the windy but spectacular highway to Cambria, the next town of any significance where supplies can be had. CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) estimates it will take 6-9 months to rebuild a new bridge over the canyon.

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.