About the 1978 fire in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
At daybreak on July 8, 1978, a devastating fire reduced the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro to ashes. It was the worst catastrophe suffered by a museum since World War II. Twenty-five years later, there are several things worth recalling about this sad event, not least that it could have been avoided, as the Museum had been alerted by the International Council of Museums that it lacked the basic equipment to extinguish a fire.
Although the origin of the fire was never conclusively established, it is believed that it began in the auditorium after a performance earlier that night. The show had ended late and the watchmen closed the premises just before they left. A hastily extinguished cigarette or a short circuit were listed as possible causes. Someone driving by the Museum alerted the fire department. The first units to arrive were helpless to act, as the Museum's main water supply was shut off because somewhere in the building there was a leaky faucet. When the firefighters finally succeeded in getting the water flowing, it was too late to salvage anything. The fire had rapidly spread through the flammable partitions and the ventilation ducts. The New York Times of July 9 reported the blaze on its front page, describing how hours later, the building's concrete shell was still smoking, littered with piles of dirty gray sludge and broken glass.