Brazil museum fire: Most of the building's 20 million artefacts feared destroyed

Minnie Murray
September 7, 2018

Smoke rose Monday from the burned-out hulk of Brazil's National Museum, as recriminations flew over who was responsible for the loss of at least part of Latin America's largest archive of historical artifacts, objects and documents. Some researchers in Rio actually attempted to rush into the museum during the fire and save thousands of pieces, but the flames proved too much to save more.

Fire in the Brazilian Museum caused great losses. The state of Rio de Janeiro has been particularly hard hit in recent years thanks to a combination of falling world prices of oil, one of its major revenue sources, mismanagement and massive corruption.

Late a year ago, after a termite attack shuttered a room hosting the bones of the Maxakalisaurus dinosaur, the National Museum was forced to turn to a crowdfunding site to seek funds for reopening the exhibit.

Luiz Duarte, one of the museum's vice-directors, told TV Globo: "It is an unbearable catastrophe".

Roberto Leher, rector of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, to which the museum was linked, said it was well known that the building was vulnerable to fire and in need of extensive fix. Authorities had expressed concern Monday that internal walls and parts of the roof were weak. Items not held in the main building have survived.

But the extent of damage to the museum's collection could be catastrophic. The museum's series of lace bugs - the field's finest - and the leisure of its 5 million arthropod specimens had been all doubtlessly destroyed.

After a huge blaze engulfed the neglected, 200-year-old National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, it is feared that up to 90 per cent of its 20 million artefacts may have been destroyed.


Many have linked this lack of finances to austerity measures made by Temer's government which have taken effect since he assumed the presidency in 2016, following the impeachment of ex-President Dilma Rousseff.

Sa Leitao, who in July 2017 became culture minister under Temer - a deeply unpopular center-right leader - acknowledged that "the tragedy could have been avoided" but said "the problems of the National Museum have been piling up over time". Police attacked the students with pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades. People saved what they could.

Signs of disrepair were evident: The fencing was dilapidated, stonework was cracked and lawns appeared untended. This year was on track to include an increase from last year. Earlier this year, the museum had to use a crowdfunding website to help raise $7,000 to deal with a termite infestation that had forced the closure of an exhibit.

For now, Brazilian media have circulated two hypotheses about what could have happened: One implies that an electrical short circuit in one of the audiovisual rooms sparked the blaze, while the other questions whether a small hot air balloon on the building's terrace may have fallen and caught fire.

"Look at the irony". Moderately just a few museum workers reportedly rushed internal the constructing while the fireside raged, hoping to rescue what study they'd from their work stations. French and Egyptian officials also have offered help.

Between 2013 and 2017, the National Museum in Rio's federal funding fell about a third, to 643,567 reais, according to official budget data. Instead, trucks had to be sent to get water from a nearby lake. Serejo said that smoke detectors were not working. The only way forward for the museum's staff is to pick up the pieces and move on, but so much was lost that can never be recovered or rebuilt.

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