Lack of sprinklers, insurance and funds contribute to Brazil’s museum fire

Latin America

Investigators are still looking for the cause of Sunday’s devastating fire at Brazil’s National Museum. However, years of budget cuts may be a contributing factor. The museum held Latin America’s largest collection of historical and scientific artifacts. Some are saying it was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco filed this report from Rio de Janeiro.

It’s been called a tragedy foretold, which led to the destruction of almost all the collection of Brazil’s treasured National Museum in Sunday’s inferno. The 200-year-old building lacked a sprinkler system, and did not have a fire brigade in case of an emergency, nor a fire insurance.

“We did have working fire extinguishers that were verified every year. That’s what we had,” Cristiane Serejo, Vice Director Brazil’s National Museum said.

The museum was founded in 1818 and home to more than 20 million pieces, from dinosaur fossils to historical artifacts. Before the tragedy, the museum was suffering from funding cuts, and problems had been piling up.

The financial situation was so dire that last year one of Rio’s top samba schools, “Imperatriz Leopoldinese,” decided to pay tribute to the museum for its bicentenary anniversary.

However, it was not enough to save the collection that was swept by flames during six-long hours. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, museum officials say it was well-known that the building was vulnerable to fire and needed urgent repairs.

According to the Museum’s director of administration, Wagner Martins, the museum hadn’t been receiving its already small, annual budget.

“Our annual budget of (BRL 515,000) some $125,000 for administration and maintenance was paid in three and since 2015 we had been receiving only two-thirds of that amount,” Martins said.

On Tuesday, two days after the tragedy, the Brazilian government announced a provisional decree to spend $6 million on projects aimed at improving security in museums.

More funding will be needed, museum officials say, but nothing will replace the huge cultural loss, especially in a year when the museum should be celebrating its 200th anniversary with joy and not with grief.