On the fifth day of raging fires and choking clouds of smoke, in what has become, according to an article in The Guardian, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, stories are beginning to emerge of heartbreaking loss suffered by some of the individual victims of the wild, out-of-control blazes. So far, 31 people have died as a result of the fires, and that number is expected to increase in coming days.
Imagine spending an entire lifetime with the love of your life, your soulmate, the woman or man of your dreams and wind up living or vacationing in the gorgeous wine country of northern California, only to have that love snuffed out in a hellish inferno. It seems impossible to comprehend, but for several of the actual victims of these deadly fires and their families, the stories are all too real.
USA Today has reported the story of Charles Rippey, 100, and his wife, Sara, 98, who were married on March 10, 1942, and recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. Charles and Sara, who had been residents of Napa Valley for 35 years, were among the first to die in the fires. The flames swept through their home so quickly and intensely that their caretaker, Maria, couldn’t reach them and was barely able to escape with her own life mere seconds before the entire house crumbled to the ground. Their son, Chuck Rippey, discovered the bodies and the couple’s granddaughter, Ruby Gibney, expressed what many family members must have felt about the strength of their love.
“The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other.”
Well, according to SFGate, “the only thing worse” is exactly what happened to Carmen Berriz, 75, and her husband Armando, 76, who were vacationing with family members in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa. At about 1 a.m. Monday morning, seemingly out of nowhere, fire engulfed the home they were renting. While the others in the house were able to escape, Carmen and Armando found their way blocked by a fallen tree and discovered it was impossible to exit. They decided to try and save their lives by jumping into the backyard swimming pool.
Thirty-foot flames engulfed the entire area around the pool and it became so hot that the outdoor furniture literally melted. Carmen and Armando stayed in the pool for hours, at times having to keep every part of their bodies other than their mouths and noses under the water’s surface. Several hours into the ordeal, Carmen, who had always had issues with her lungs, stopped breathing altogether. Armando continued to hang on to her until the flames finally subsided. Afterwards, he lifted Carmen out of the pool and carried her two miles down the road, before being discovered by firefighters.
The latest news is that firefighters have made some small amount of headway towards turning the tide against the fires, but they are fighting against time since high winds are expected to return to Napa and Sonoma Counties. Massive clouds of smoke have led to schools in the area being closed Friday, and the California wildfires are expected to be a major concern for several more days. Everyone is hoping, however, that tomorrow and the day after that, we won’t have any further stories of tragic loss and heartbreaking love to tell.
[Featured Image by Jae C. Hong/AP Images]