Anyone who has spent fire season in Los Angeles knows some of its special language—knows, for example, the difference between a fire that has been “controlled” and a fire that has so far been merely “contained” (a “contained” fire has been surrounded, usually by a trench half as wide as the brush is high, but is still burning out of control within this line and may well jump it), knows the difference between “full” and “partial” control (“partial” control means, if the wind changes, no control at all), knows about “backfiring” and about “making the stand” and about the difference between a Red Flag Alert (there will probably be a fire today) and a Red Flag Warning (there will probably be a Red Flag Alert within three days).
Still, “burn index” was new to me, and one of the headquarters foresters, Paul Rippens, tried that morning to explain it. … A week or so later, 3,700 acres burned in the hills west of the Antelope Valley. The flames reached 60 feet. The wind was gusting at 40 miles an hour. There were 250 firefighters on the ground, and they evacuated 1,500 residents, one of whom returned to find her house gone but managed to recover, according to The Los Angeles Times, “an undamaged American flag and a porcelain Nativity set handmade by her mother.” (via Atlantic Monthly)