California: In The Blazing Eye of the Inferno

As one of the worst fires in California history destroys more than 500 homes and causes $500 million in damage, a TIME contributor watches his house turn into a gutted skeleton -- and then narrowly es

The ironies, of course, begin to multiply as soon as a life comes unraveled: in retrospect, everything seems an augury. One night before, the local TV station had announced that the conditions -- 106 degrees heat, gale-force winds and drought-stricken hills -- were the best for a fire in 100 years. That day, at lunch, I had been talking with a friend whose mother had just died, about the pathos of going through old belongings. And when, at the optician's office that evening, my doctor stepped out to go and sniff at what he thought might be a fire, I sat...

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