World News

Fire Engulfs a Brazilian Museum, Threatening Hundreds of Years of History

Posted September 3, 2018 12:45 a.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2018 12:48 a.m. EDT

RIO DE JANEIRO — A fire engulfed the National Museum of Brazil on Sunday night, ravaging the stately, 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro and threatening the years of history encapsulated inside.

Aerial video posted by the television station Globo showed roaring flames and billowing smoke overtaking the large museum. Windows on multiple floors across the museum displayed a burning orange color, and the glow of the fire lit up the dark night sky.

The destruction to the building was significant, and it is unclear whether any historical artifacts had been saved. The museum housed a collection of more than 20 million items, including Egyptian mummies, Greco-Roman artifacts, dinosaur fossils and the oldest human fossil in the region, known as “Luzia.”

Nobody was believed to have been injured in the blaze, which started about 7:30 p.m. local time, when the museum was closed, fire officials said. Several hours later, firefighters were still working to put out the enormous fire.

Michel Temer, the president of Brazil, tweeted that it was “a sad day for all Brazilians.”

“The loss of the National Museum collection is incalculable for Brazil,” he wrote. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”

Mayor Marcelo Crivella said Sunday night in a message posted on Instagram that it was a “national duty” to rebuild the collection “from the ashes,” suggesting building replicas based on photos.

The museum, located in a public park and now tied to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, turned 200 years old in June. It is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and has large natural history and anthropology collections.

But the museum had fallen into disrepair in recent years, as the country itself struggled with a crippled economy and political instability. According to local news media reports, professors who worked at the museum had collected money to help pay for cleaning services.

Luiz Fernando Dias, the museum’s deputy director, told GloboNews in an interview on Sunday that the fire destroyed the compound.

He said the museum had struggled to stay afloat financially for several years. The museum was due to get funding for a renovation from the Brazilian Development Bank, but part of the money would only be made available after a national election to replace the president in October.

“All of this results in the destruction of the careers of about 90 researchers who dedicated their professional lives to that space,” Dias said.

Gaudêncio Fidelis, a prominent Brazilian art curator, chided the government for what he called “negligence.”

“This is a crime that must be punished,” he said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Sadness, consternation and indignation are feelings that I believe I share with many people who understand the significance of the knowledge that future generations will be deprived of.”