Elderly couple killed in California wildfire married for 75 years

(Daniel Cole, AP)
(Daniel Cole, AP)

California — 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 on 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," 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.

'It's gone. They're gone'

Charles — 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 neighbourhoods.

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.

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.

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 served as a US 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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