Sara and Charles Rippey met as grade-schoolers in Hartford, Wis., and lived together for much of their century-long lives.
She was 98; he was 100. They had recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary.
And they were Napa County’s first confirmed fatalities in the wildfires that ravaged Northern California last October. The inferno simply moved too quickly for the couple to escape.
“The only thing worse would have been if one survived without the other,” their granddaughter said.
In the grim aftermath of last fall’s wine country wildfires, one compelling fact quickly emerged: the majority of the 41 victims were elderly.
Most were found inside their homes, unable to escape as the fire bore down. At least one was confined to a wheelchair.
The diablo winds propelled the fires faster than even able-bodied people could run. The blazes spread so quickly that advance warning was measured in minutes or seconds. Hesitation proved lethal. For elderly victims with limited mobility, chances of survival were slim.
Many of the elderly victims resided in a Santa Rosa mobile home park for seniors, ironically named Journey’s End. The fire that consumed the area was so hot that the residents were essentially cremated.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), people ages 85 or older have the highest fire death rate (39.5). They are 4.1 times more likely to die in a fire than the total population.
For all of us, the risk of dying in a fire increases significantly as we age. Knowing what to do in a fire emergency can make a big difference. If there is a fire in your home, you have less than three minutes to get out, so being prepared ahead of time is critical.
The USFA recommends the following:
If you need to use a wheelchair or a cane, make sure you can get to it easily and get out quickly.
And speaking of smoke alarms, did you know that the majority of fatal fires occur when people are sleeping?
If fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), smoke can actually cause you to sleep more deeply rather than waking you.
So it’s important to make sure you have smoke alarms installed on every floor of your home, even the basement.
The alarms should be located within or just outside every sleeping area. They should be tested monthly and replaced every ten years.
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