100-Year-Old World War II Veteran and His Wife of 75 Years Die Together in California Wildfire
Charles and Sara Rippey’s love story ended after 75 years of marriage when an out-of-control fire engulfed their Napa Valley, California, home Sunday.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Coroner’s Office confirmed their deaths to PEOPLE on Tuesday. Charles – who went by Peach — was 100, and his wife, Sara, was 98.
The couple’s granddaughter, Ruby Gibney, told KTVU that they were not able to escape their home as the fire caught up to their Silverado Residential Community home.
“The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other,” she said.
Their son, Chuck Rippey, told NBC Bay Area that despite his father needing a walker he managed to almost make it to Sara’s side. Rippey found his parents’ bodies close together in the ashes of their home.
Rippey said that their caregiver tried to get to the couple as the fire took hold but ran out of time.
“Before she knew it, the roof was caving in,” he said. “So it was very fast, very fast,” the devastated son said.
“She went down [to the house] 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.”
The couple married March 20, 1942, and celebrated their 75th anniversary months ago, according to the Napa Valley Register, which wrote a profile about their celebration.
Charles was a veteran of World War II, having served in the army for four years. He later attained the rank of captain in the Army Corps of Engineers and was stationed in Europe and North Africa.
The pair lived in Napa for 35 years, where they enjoyed games of tennis and golf at the Napa Valley Country Club.
The couple are survived by their five children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
New evacuations were ordered on Tuesday as fires continued to burn across Northern California.
Since the wildfires broke out Sunday in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties 17 people have died and at least 100 remain missing, authorities have confirmed.
The fires have also destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses.