California Wildfires Threaten Several Libraries

California Wildfires Threaten Several Libraries

Two libraries in central California were forced to evacuate staff and materials because of the facilities’ proximity to the wildfires that hundreds of state and federal firefighters as well as brigades of volunteers are trying to bring under control.

The private Henry Miller Memorial Library has moved its materials to safety twice; on June 22 Director Magnus Torén evacuated “all original artwork, primary source material, [and] rare books,” according to the update Torén posted July 7 to the library website. Although the mandatory evacuation has since been lifted for the Big Sur area in which the library, as well as Torén’s home, is located, the materials had to be transported July 2 to more-distant Carmel because the location was in an established evacuation zone. “Next time we’ll take it to Seattle!” he quipped.

Torén added that the Basin Complex Fire was stopped “almost literally on the doorstep” of the library by firefighters “supported by two helicopters running in tandem up and down to the ocean with 400–600-gallon loads of water.”

Even as library staff members were moving materials for the second time July 2, employees of the Monterey County Free Libraries were packing up the entire collection of the system’s Big Sur branch, as well as its computers, because the Basin Complex Fire was advancing there, County Librarian Jayanti Addleman told American Libraries. “Though we are still optimistic that the library structure will be saved from the fire,” she explained that materials and equipment were removed “since water and smoke can cause irreparable damage.” She added that staff “left the phone plugged in, in case someone takes shelter in there.”

Adddleman praised the dedication of library workers in completing the evacuation two hours earlier than the mandatory 7 p.m. deadline set by firefighters—particularly because several staff members were already exhausted from evacuating their own homes. Their speed enabled a staff member to prepare a package of reading materials that they delivered to “a very grateful group of firefighters at the base camp at Andrew Molera State Park” as the library group left the area, she told AL.

Both libraries remain closed while the fire is active, a period that experts believe could last through July.

July 9 UPDATE:

As some 200 National Guard troops were completing their firefighting training so they could join the 18,000 professionals and volunteers combating wildfires in the Golden State, the residents of some 3,200 homes in the town of Paradise were issued mandatory evacuation orders. Despite the movement of the Butte Lightning Complex Fires, the Butte County Library System’s Paradise facility “remains in a relatively safe area, though the air is thick with smoke,” Branch Manager Rochelle Carr told American Libraries; nonetheless, it is under a precautionary evacuation order. She reported that staff members’ homes “are currently out of harm’s way, though with our last [wildfire] scare in June several had to evacuate.”

Despite—or perhaps because—of the crisis, the library saw an uptick in patron visits until July 9, when most remaining area residents “were not venturing out in this ashy air,” Carr said. She added that, before the air quality deteriorated, patrons “were waiting at the door, many with face masks. All ages came in wanting books and trying to communicate with friends via e-mail and to get news. This has been surreal for us all.”

Carr is posting news bulletins, fire locations, and evacuation maps as she receives them from BCLS Director Derek Wolfgram, who is stationed at the town’s emergency command center, and keeps a radio tuned to the local emergency information station.

Posted on July 8, 2008; updated on July 9, 2008. Discuss.