DISASTERS: Costly Holocaust

On a balmy evening last week, a young man was flying his box kite in a posh residential neighborhood to the northeast of Santa Barbara, Calif. Suddenly the kite swooped into power lines, causing a short circuit that showered sparks and ignited the drought-dried chaparral below. Whipped by winds of up to 40 m.p.h., the blaze roared down the hills on a one-mile front toward the coastal city (pop. 73,000). Said one awed witness: "Homes went up with a huge whoosh and puff. Palm trees exploded like Roman candles."

While more than 1,000 fire fighters battled the holocaust, some...

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