The Crisis of Not Caring: the Brazilian National Museum Fire

“The loss of the National Museum’s collection is insurmountable for Brazil.”

Those were the words of President Michel Temer in the hours after a massive inferno ripped through a collection of over 20 million priceless artifacts spanning 11,000 years of human and science history exhibited in the National Museum of Brazil. Initial estimates have placed the total loss at approximately 90% of the museum’s collection, a stunning blow to the city of Rio de Janeiro; the country of Brazil; historians, geologists, and biologists the world over; and ultimately humans everywhere.

The Museum Wasn’t Prepared for a Fire

By the early morning hours of the next day, protestors had already converged on the ruined, blackened shell of what had once been the Brazilian royal residence and a museum housing irreplaceable insights into the distant history of human development in and outside of Latin America. Reports had already indicated that the blaze took little more than an hour to completely total the structure. As soon as Brazilians learned that the building had not been prepared at all for the possibility of a fire, they took to the streets. Blame poured onto the Brazilian government for its stringent cuts to science and education programs within the last few years, citing irresponsible disregard for the museum and its infrastructural upkeep.

No Fire Sprinkler System

This upkeep would have included a fire sprinkler system. Luiz Duarte, a vice-director of the museum, told a Brazilian news station this: “…for many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed.” Many protestors have shared similar remarks to Duarte’s, indicating that public funds have considerably slid in recent decades where the museum and other institutions like it are concerned.

The Brazilian National Museum simply didn’t have any fire sprinklers. Perhaps what’s most devastating is that Duarte also revealed that the museum had recently closed a financial deal with the Brazilian government’s bank after all of these years. This would finally secure an extra stimulus of discretionary funding that was due to include a fire prevention project. The museum had recognized how important protecting its facilities from fire was for years, but the Brazilian government had failed to act. Unlike at the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC where they’re required by law, national leaders in Brazil didn’t treat fire safety systems like the priority they are. And now, they’ve paid the price.

Fire Hydrants Not Inspected

Most shocking of all was the information that Robert Robaday, the fire chief of Rio de Janeiro, shared. He insisted that the firefighters who arrived to the scene of the museum blaze discovered that the 2 nearest fire hydrants were empty and dry, a clear sign that no money had been spent to regularly inspect them. By the time firefighters could access water supplies from a nearby lake or from water trucks that had to be driven in, it was too late to suppress what quickly became an uncontrollable disaster. The quicker a fire can be taken on effectively, the more likely its complete suppression will be. That’s why fire sprinkler systems are essential. They can respond quickly, effectively, and locally, meaning they’ll spring into action in the exact region of a building where a fire first rears its ugly head.

Be Prepared for a Fire

You can learn from their mistake!

If you’re on the fence about spending the money on a fire prevention system in your building, jump off it. Your property doesn’t have to be a national museum to be worth saving. For help learning about fire safety systems and/or to discuss designing a custom fire safety system for your property, you can contact us at 817-572-3663 or

Read more about the donations that were given to the museum compared to the recent Notre-Dame travesty.