California: Ordeal by Fire Storm

Up in the Laguna Mountains, the flames were barely visible at first. Franklin Greene, 59, a court reporter who lives in a hillside house near the town of Jamul, east of San Diego, watched the distant flickerings with little concern, then took some relatives out to dinner. Just before 6 the next morning, a group of hippies from a commune farther down the mountain roused Greene and warned him to flee.

Greene was still thinking in terms of creeping brushfires. He packed his car with some clothes and paintings. His visitors drove the...