Couple married 75 years dies together in wildfires

NAPA COUNTY, Calif. (ABC News) — A couple who had been married 75 years were recently found dead from the devastating wildfires burning through Northern California.

One of their sons told ABC News they “were happy right up until the last minute.”

Officials identified Charles and Sara Rippey as just two of the 15 people who died in one of the 17 wildfires consuming over 115,000 acres across the state.

Image courtesy of ABC News

Charles turned 100 in July and had been married to Sara for 75 years, according to their son Mike. The couple met as children while growing up in Wisconsin.

Mike Rippey said his mother “was paralyzed, she had a stroke about five years ago, and there was no way she was getting out of this fire.” Mike is the oldest of five siblings.

An undated photo of Charles and Sara Rippey who died in the Northern California wildfires in Oct. 2017. Image courtesy of ABC News

“And my father was sleeping in a different room, and we found him halfway to her room. And so he never made it to her room,” Mike Rippey said. “But even if he had made it, there was no way he was gonna leave her. So neither one of them was getting out.”

Mike’s brother Chuck said he heard about the house being engulfed in flames over the phone, so he drove there, only to arrive too late.

“If they had gotten out, in their elderly state, somehow, they would have gotten grilled out here,” Chuck Rippey said. “That’s how bad it was.”

Image courtesy of ABC News

“Because of the high winds … all the firefighters, I talked to a bunch of them, were trying to save lives. Trying to evacuate people. And it wasn’t an easy job because there were several 8-foot in diameter trees that were across the road right here, so people couldn’t come down, there was only one access,” he said. “People just jumped in their ponds and stuff and waited for the helicopter … that’s the only refuge they could find.”

Image courtesy of ABC News

“I would have thought getting in the pool,” he said, but “all the tile is melted off the faces of the pool. There was no place to hide, there was no place to go, if you put your head above water, it would have been burned off. Just like a blow torch.”

Mike Rippey said of his parents, “They lived a long life. It was a great life and they were happy right up until the last minute.”

“And you just have to look at that and just, you know, be happy that that’s what happened and they died together and they never wanted to leave each other,” he added. “So it was almost impossible for any of us to visualize one of them dying first.”

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