The tragedy that engulfed the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday night, turning up to 20 million of its holdings into dust, is an urgent reminder of the need for better safekeeping measures at museums around the world. To put what happened in perspective: It’s as if the entire collection of the British Museum disappeared, twice over, in the blink of an eye.
The fire ignited for unknown reasons. But many Brazilians are blaming their government and some have taken to the streets in protest. After years of declining federal funds, the museum staff had requested urgent maintenance funds from the country’s National Development Bank. In June, the money was disbursed but not in time to install the planned update to the museum’s fire equipment, which lacked a sprinkler system.
Right after the fire erupted, haunting images of panic-stricken museum workers with arms full of museum objects started to circulate on social media and in news outlets. One video showed some of them carrying jars of preserved specimens outside, as firefighters raced back in to save what they could.
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