Saving personal records after a bushfire

Media release: Tuesday, 8 January 2013

With bushfires currently raging throughout Australia, the National Archives of Australia has drawn attention to its online advice on salvaging personal records for those unfortunate enough to lose belongings. Its website contains practical steps householders can take when trying to save treasured documents.

'If you are unlucky enough to have lost your home, it may still be possible to salvage important personal papers such as photographs, letters, passports, wills or certificates,' said Ian Batterham, senior conservator at the National Archives. 'While natural disasters cannot be prevented, their effect on personal collections can be significantly minimised with quick action, once you are authorised to enter your home again.

'In the aftermath of a fire you need to move quickly and decisively to save as much as you can. If you have had a fire, you have a number of problems. You will most likely have a quantity of charred, sooty and fragile material. There may also be wet items if fires have been fought with water and this further complicates the recovery process.'

Information on the National Archives website shows what to retrieve first, with advice on saving paper documents, photographs, CDs, and books.

'Any material that has been turned completely black by the fire – is generally past help,' said Ian Batterham. 'It is usually so weak as to fall apart with the slightest handling and has often lost any information it carried.

'But items that are partially burned, smoke or soot damaged, heat affected, wet or physically damaged from the fire-fighting effort can probably be salvaged.'

For those living in areas at risk of bushfire, Mr Batterham suggests acting to minimise the loss of irreplaceable material.

'Ensure that you keep copies of your prized material in another location,' he said. 'For example, if you have a private collection of family photos or treasured documents, you could scan them to disk and give copies of the disk to family members.'

He warns that, although fire-rated cabinets are available, it's important to know that they aren't very effective in major fires, where they can act like an oven, rather than providing protection. Further advice on salvaging fire-damaged records can be found on the National Archives of Australia website.

Note to Editor: Ian Batterham is available for interview.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0417 247 157 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014