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September-October 2015

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Retrospect

October 20, 1991: Oakland Hills Firestorm

Prometheus, one of the Titans of Greek mythology, is said to have stolen fire from Zeus for the benefit of humanity, thus enabling progress and civilization. While fire has certainly allowed humanity to prosper and civilization to flourish over the millennia, when this classical element clashes with humanity's illimitable progress, the results are often disastrous.

In the fall of 1991, such a tragedy unfolded across Oakland Hills, a largely affluent neighborhood in the eastern part of Oakland, California, just east of the San Francisco Bay. Here, million-dollar homes nestle among pine and eucalyptus trees along what is known as the wildland-urban interface—the zone where wild, untouched land meets human development. This area is often a breeding ground for wildfire disasters, as houses and other structures located next to brush, tall grasses, and trees fall victim to the conflagration that can result from an act as careless as tossing a cigarette out a car window or leaving a campfire smoldering.

Contributing Editor SEAN POTTER is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM), Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM), and science writer with an interest in weather history.

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