Museum fire: Few rare specimens could be safe, say officials

New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) If officials of the National Museum of Natural History(NMNH) are to be believed, some of the rare specimens which were exhibited at a lower floor of the museum could be safe, even after a massive fire on Tuesday destroyed the museum.

The officials however refused to speak on record.

Earlier on Tuesday, a massive fire erupted around 1.45 a.m. on the top floor of the museum, which was situated in the Ficci building near Mandi house in the national capital.

“Some of the rare specimens like cup-sponge fossil, dinosaurs egg fossil, sauropod fossil and some other rare specimens are believed to be safe,” a museum official requesting anonymity told IANS.

“These specimens are believed to be safe because they were exhibited on the first floor of the museum gallery, which was largely untouched by the flames,” the officer claimed.

The official, however, also stated that they were not allowed to enter the museum after the fire was put off as the cooling off operation was still on.

Most of the taxidermied artifacts like white tiger, Asian cheetah, snow leopard and several others are feared to have been reduced to ashes in the blaze, the officer said.

According to fire officials, almost everything including the collection and documents on display in the museum, was destroyed.

“Almost everything has been destroyed in the museum. Some were destroyed due to the fire, some by smoke and some by the water used to douse the flames,” Delhi Fire director G.C. Mishra told IANS.

“It’s a sad day for us, as the NMNH was like our second home… We are numb,” said a museum official.

The cause of the fire is not yet known. The museum will remain closed to the public till the next announcement, the environment ministry said in a statement.

As per the fire department officials, the flames quickly spread in the multi-storey building which housed the museum, just across the Nepalese embassy and around three kilometres from Parliament House.

Soon after the massive fire, a stunned Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar ordered an urgent fire and energy audit of all the establishments under his ministry across the country as fire fighters claimed that the fire fighting system failed to work at the museum.

The minister also ordered fire and energy audit of 34 museums including Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) and Botanical Survey of India (BSI).

The fire was controlled by 6 a.m. in the morning, however, the cooling-off operation was still on for hours.

Meanwhile, the fire fighters avoided entering the museum till late noon as the temperature inside the museum was over 60 degrees Celsius.

However, the fire fighters managed to enter inside the top floor using the hydraulic platform cranes, where the fire first erupted.

The fire fighters also said that the flames spread quickly due to the wooden partitions and cabinets where specimens were housed in the museum.

The fire officers also suspect that the stuffed animals and rare specimens preserved in the chemicals were highly combustible, hence it helped the fire to spread rapidly.

A claim of the fire officers, however, was denied by the museum official.

A museum official requesting anonymity told IANS, “Yes, we had a technical laboratory on the fifth floor but we didn’t have combustible chemicals stored there.”

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