A fire destroyed India’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in New Delhi early on Tuesday, and it comes as an overdue wake-up call on safety. Luckily no one was killed in the blaze, although 6 firefighters had to be hospitalized for excessive smoke inhalation. Still, six floors were gutted by flames, meaning a priceless collection of the country’s heritage has been lost. What has officials grinding their teeth even more is that this was a preventable accident.
“The pumps were not working when we needed water,” said Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rajesh Pawar. He continued, “Only hours into the operation did the staff in the premises manage to wrench open an old tank and make water available to us. We managed with the water stored in our fire engines.”
Unfortunately India has an appalling track record when it comes to building safety. Now, due to its obvious neglect of regular fire drills and maintenance of safety systems, the country’s only natural history museum has literally gone up in smoke.
In response, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar ordered an energy and fire audit of all of the Ministry’s establishments across the country, including 34 other museums visited by thousands every day.
As for the NMNH, Javadekar said “We will assess the loss and see how we can restore it and how the recovery plan can be made. There are plans to move to another area to create a new museum.” The land has been purchased and design work is already underway, with an estimated February 2017 completion date and a $2.25 billion price tag.
This one better have working fire safety systems.