But on Sunday night, they died together in their house in Napa, Calif., when a wind-whipped wildfire engulfed the property, causing the roof to cave in and the windows to explode, leaving the couple trapped inside.
“The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other,” a granddaughter, Ruby Gibney, told KTVU.
The Rippeys were the first confirmed fire-related fatalities in Napa County, and among at least 17 people who have perished in the wildfires ravaging Northern California’s wine country.
Some 25,000 people have been forced to evacuate, and more than 2,000 buildings have been destroyed in the flames that state fire officials said spread at an “unprecedented speed.”
The inferno simply moved too quickly for the couple to escape.
Their caregiver tried to rescue the elderly couple, who had been sleeping, and managed to get Sara into a wheelchair — but ultimately ran out of time, their son, Mike, told the Times.
“The caregiver called me and said that there was fire everywhere,” their other son, Chuck, told NBC Bay Area. “I said just get those guys out on the street, and before she knew it, the roof was caving in and all that, so it was very fast. Very fast.”
“She went down to get my father and all the windows started to explode and [there was] smoke and heat and all that everywhere,” Chuck added. “She just couldn’t find them.”
The caregiver “was barely able to get out in time and wasn’t able to get to them,” Napa County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Foster told the East Bay Times.
Charles managed to fight through the intense heat and smoke in the house, and almost made it to his wife’s side, Chuck told the NBC affiliate.
He found their remains near each other on Monday.
Charles, also known as Peach, graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1939, and went on to serve in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, according to the Napa Valley Register.
After the war, he worked at a tire and rubber company, and a manufacturing company.
Sarah, called “the Queen” by Charles, also graduated from the University of Wisconsin and was an avid bridge player and a homemaker, taking care of the family of five children.
On Tuesday, the couple’s sons, Chuck and Mike, searched through the charred remnants of their parents’ house, which they had called home for 35 years.
Not much remained, other than faint signs of where the front door had been, and a charred heap of what used to be the garage and an old Lexus, Mike told the Times.