[London fire of 1666, unknown artist, Wikimedia Commons]
One morning last fall Dave and I found ourselves in The City--the part of modern London that lies within the Roman wall and is the heart of the financial district--staring up at the London Monument. The Monument, as it is commonly referred to, is a massive Doric column, designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, commemorating the fire of September 1666.
The fire, which displaced most of the 80,000 residents, began in a local bakery after a period of drought. One reason the fire was able to overtake the entire area was the density of the wooden buildings--many in which projecting upper stories almost met in mid-air. And there was a dry easterly wind. The official casualties were very low, although it is now believed that many deaths went unrecorded. For contemporary accounts of the event, we are fortunate to have diary entries from both John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys.
Now, in 2007, what are probably the worst firestorms in California history are flashing across our television screens. Every casualty is a tragedy, but we must be thankful that measures adopted after the 1991 Oakland fires and 2003 Cedar fires have saved many lives this time around.
For up to date information, go to the CA Office of Emergency Services website: http://www.oes.ca.gov/.
There are thousands who need help in the wake of these fires. Go to: http://www.redcross.org/.
For information on a current restoration project at the London Monument, go to:http://www.themonument.info/index.html.