NAPA, Calif. – 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 Tuesday that his brother had discovered their bodies after driving to the home and managing to get past security. 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," 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 near 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 — and his wife were among at least 21 victims who have died in the fierce, fast-moving fires that started Sunday and raged through neighborhoods. None of the other victims had been identified.
Authorities were 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.
A series of wildfires raging across Northern California have destroyed thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings. The wildfires rank among the deadliest in state history, and officials expect the death toll to rise as the scope of destruction becomes clear.
At least 185 people were injured, and hundreds of others were reported missing, though many may be safe but unable to use communication systems that were damaged.
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 then 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."
Julie Watson in San Diego and Ellen Knickmeyer in Napa contributed to his report.