NAPA, Calif. (AP) — 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.
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.
So far, the wildfires have killed 21 people.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott gave an updated death toll Wednesday, calling the series of wildfires in wine country "a serious, critical, catastrophic event."
The blazes have also left at least 180 people injured and have destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses. More than 4,400 people were staying in shelters Wednesday.
Sonoma County officials said 670 people are still listed as missing from fires in California wine country. But Sheriff Robert Giordano said Wednesday many of those people may have been found but have not yet updated a registry of missing people. Desperate family members and friends are turning to social media with pleas for help finding loved ones missing from the 22 fires in Northern California.
Authorities are ordering all residents of the Northern California town of Calistoga to evacuate, saying "conditions have worsened."
The Napa County Sheriff's Office said in an alert sent via cellphone and email that residents need to leave by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Earlier, officials went through the town of 5,000 people, knocking on doors to warn about 2,000 of them to leave.
In neighboring Sonoma County, authorities issued an evacuation advisory for the northern part of the town of Sonoma and the community of Boyes Hot Springs. By then, lines of cars were already fleeing the community.
Officials said they have thousands of firefighters battling 22 blazes burning in Northern California and that more are coming from nearby states.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Chief Ken Pimlott said close to 8,000 firefighters have been deployed and are fighting the blazes by air and on the ground.
Pimlott said Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Washington are sending firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service is sending fire engines, bulldozers and hand crews.
He also says there are concerns several fires could merge into one big blaze.