Elderly Wisconsin-natives killed in California wildfires

Posted at 7:12 PM, Oct 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-10 23:55:57-04

 NAPA, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Rippey stood Tuesday among the ash and charred debris of the California home where his 100-year-old father, Charles, and 98-year-old mother, Sara, had died in the raging wine country wildfires.

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

The New York Times reports that the Rippeys grew up together in Hartford, Wisconsin and they both graduated from UW-Madison. 

His father appeared to be heading to his mother's room 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 -- were among the 15 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 increase as the scope of destruction becomes clear.

At least 100 people were injured, and nearly 200 people 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."

NBC News reports that more than 2,000 homes and commercial buildings have been destroyed in Santa Rosa, and neighborhoods have been reduced to ash.