Courtesy of Mike Rippey (SANTA ROSA, Calif.) — At least 41 people have died from the devastating wildfires that have been burning in California for more than a week.
Over 213,000 acres have burned in the state. Sonoma County was hit especially hard, where many perished and homes were demolished.
Those killed from the fires include a 100-year-old man and his wife of 75 years, as well as a 72-year-old woman who had reportedly been recovering from cancer.
Charles and Sara Rippey
Charles and Sara Rippey of Napa County, California, who were married for 75 years, both died in the fires.
Charles Rippey, who turned 100 in July, met Sara Rippey when they were children in Wisconsin, one of their sons, Mike Rippey, told ABC News.
Mike Rippey, the oldest of five siblings, 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.”
“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.”
His brother Chuck Rippey said he got a call about the house being engulfed in flames, so he drove over, reaching the house a few hours after the blaze.
“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.”
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.”
Victim Carol Collins-Swasey, 76, was a retired real estate broker and active Red Cross volunteer who lived in Santa Rosa, California, for over 30 years, family member Roxanne Swasey told ABC News.
“She was successful, career-focused and very hardworking. She was quick-witted with a great sense humor and an animal lover,” Roxanne Swasey told ABC News via email. “Married for 27 years to her husband, Jim Swasey, she was a positive influence on a lot of people’s lives in helping them buy homes and felt a lot of gratitude in being able to do so.”
Arthur and Suiko Grant
Arthur Grant, 95, and Suiko Grant, 75, of Santa Rosa, died at their home of 45 years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Grant was flying for Pan American World Airways when he met his wife, who was born in Japan, the newspaper reported.
They are survived by two daughters and a granddaughter, the newspaper said.
Lynne Anderson Powell, 72, who had been recovering from mouth cancer, died trying to flee the fire, her husband, George Powell, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
When the fire neared their Santa Rosa home, she left the house before he did, he said, telling the newspaper, “I thought my wife was out. I thought she was going to be safe.”
But in the midst of the fire and smoke, she allegedly drove off the side of the road, the newspaper said.
“What I didn’t know is I had passed her,” George Powell told the newspaper. “She was down in a ravine. And I had no idea she was down there. If I had known that, I would’ve gone down with her. I would’ve gone to try and find her.”
“She always had my back,” he said of his wife, the newspaper reported. “She tried to make life OK for me, regardless of what she was going through.”
Valerie Lynn Evans, 75, a mother and wife, died at her home in Santa Rosa while trying to save her dogs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
She was known as an animal lover and had horses, goats, dogs, a mule and a steer at her home, the newspaper said.
Carmen Caldentey Berriz, 75, died in the arms of her husband of 55 years, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
When fire surrounded the home they were vacationing in, the couple jumped in the backyard pool, the newspaper said. Berriz died, but her husband, Armando Berriz, survived.
The two had met in Cuba when Carmen Berriz was 12 years old, the newspaper said.
“They were inseparable. They were just amazing,” son-in-law Luis Ocon said, according to the newspaper. “They were the type of couple that you want to emulate, that you strive to be.”
Donna and Leroy Halbur
Victims Donna and Leroy Halbur had just celebrated their 80th birthdays and 50th wedding anniversary, according to The Mercury News.
They had lived in their Santa Rosa home for 36 years, their son, Tim Halbur, said, according to the newspaper.
Tim Halbur described his mother, a former nun, as “a great mom” who was “very creative” and “loved little kids,” the newspaper said. He called his father, who worked as an accountant for a decade, “a pillar of the community,” who was “very selfless.”
Veronica McCombs, 67, died in her Santa Rosa home.
In a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, her family said she devoted her life to her family and community.
“She was our foundation,” her son, Branden McCombs, said in the statement. “As a family, we are grieving deeply and she will be missed forever.”
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