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Fire in Brazil’s 200-Year-Old National Museum

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil —(Map)

Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro went up in flames on Sunday. The country’s prized museum held pieces of art, history, and information collected over 200 years.

Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro in flames.
Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro went up in flames on Sunday.
The museum held pieces of art, history, and information collected over 200 years.
(Source: Felipe Milanez, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The fire started on Sunday evening around 7:30, after the museum was closed. So far, no one knows how the fire started.

Firefighters were not able to attack the fire quickly because the two fire hydrants closest to the museum did not work. Firetrucks had to go get water from a nearby lake. Over 80 firefighters worked until the early hours of Monday morning to put the fire out.

Brazil's National Museum in Rio de Janeiro in flames.
Over 80 firefighters worked until early Monday morning to put the fire out.
(Source: Felipe Milanez, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The country’s president, Michel Temer, called it “a sad day for all Brazilians”. He said, “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”

The museum was started in 1818, and moved to the Royal Palace building in 1889. The museum held 20 million items.

Brazil's National Museum
The museum was started in 1818, and moved to the Royal Palace in 1889.
It held 20 million items.
(Source: Paulo R C M Jr, via Wikimedia Commons.)

In its collections, the museum had things from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian times. It had skeletons of dinosaurs and humans, including the oldest human skeleton ever found in North or South America. It was around 11,500 years old.

National Museum of Brazil - dinosaur skeletons.
The museum had things from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian times.
It also had skeletons of dinosaurs and humans.
(Source: JorgeBRAZIL, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The people in charge of the museum say that they were able to save some items from the museum by quickly taking them out before the fire got too big.

A few exhibits may have survived the fire without much damage. One example is the Bendegó meteorite – a huge chunk of iron weighing 111,600 pounds (5,260 kilograms) that fell to Earth from space.

The Bendegó meteorite in the entry to Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.
The Bendegó meteorite in the entry to the museum may have survived.
Museum workers were able to remove some other items before they got burned.
(Source: Dornicke, from Wikimedia Commons.)

But most items have probably been completely destroyed. Much of the museum’s collection was artifacts – things made by humans that were interesting for historical reasons. The museum had a large collection of items showing the history of Brazil’s native people going back hundreds of years. These items would almost certainly have burned.

Baskets in the National Museum of Brazil.
Most of the historic items in the museum were destroyed.
(Source: Dornicke, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Many people are upset about the fire. They say that it might not have happened or might not have been as bad if the government had given more money to keep the museum safe.

On Monday, crowds of protestors came to the museum and were held back by police.

Crowd of protestors at the gates of the Natioanl Museum.
Many people were upset by the fire. They feel like the museum was not supported.
On Monday, crowds of protestors at the museum were held back by police.
(Source: Lu Brito, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Brazil spent billions of dollars on the summer Olympics, which were held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. But universities and museums have not had much support.

President Temer has promised to try to collect the money needed to rebuild the museum. But even if the museum is rebuilt, it will be impossible to replace the items that were lost.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


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