Alan Howell is the Manager of Preservation at the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. Recently the news programs on TV have shown immense fires racing across the countryside and threatening Sydney, Australia's biggest city. In response to a faxed request, Mr. Howell has sent in this report, dated January 11:
The bush fires. . . are very serious and are still burning with more very hot, windy weather expected by mid-week. The country's superb counter-disaster organizations (Parks and Wildlife Services, Bush Fire Brigades, Police, Fire, Army, Navy, etc.) are managing to keep loss of life and property down to a remarkably low level. Australia has enormous areas of forest that burn naturally as part of their cycle of renewal. The problem is that we have built homes in areas where fires occur every year or so. We also see "forest" etc. as beautiful when it's a) wild and ragged, and b) at our back door.
As far as I know there have been no losses of cultural heritage material (the forests will regenerate themselves).
We have all been affected in one way or another. Friends have lost their homes. The smoke has dirtied all our possessions. As it's holiday season, colleagues have been unable to leave or get to where they are going.
These events always look bad on TV.
I have been deeply impressed by the firefighters' organization, professionalism and dedication. They are unpaid volunteers and have lost pay to travel (many inter-state) to help with the disaster.
We all owe them a great deal and have much to learn.