How museums fight fires, floods and climate change

A firefighter hoses down a home's deck during the Skirball Fire in the BelAir neighborhood of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Patrick T. Fallon.

By John Gittelsohn | Bloomberg News

As flames lit up the hills just across the freeway, torching mansions, the thousands of works of art in the Getty Center hung unperturbed. Nobody did anything to them. They didn’t have to.

The Getty’s bucolic setting on 750 acres of forested hills above Los Angeles would appear to expose it to the kinds of infernos still charring huge swaths of Southern California. But its setting is by design, part of an elaborate system of fireproofing to shield irreplaceable art as blazes bred by climate change pose a growing threat.

A firefighter hoses down a home’s deck during the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on Dec. 6, 2017. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

“The safest place for our collections, in the event of a fire, is right where it is,” museum spokesman Ron Hartwig said in a phone interview as he watched helicopters battle smoke and flames out his office window.

As climate change magnifies the threats from fires and floods, museums are taking increasingly sophisticated measures to protect their collections from extreme sunlight, humidity and temperature. “Climate change is the strongest thing that’s come up over the past 10 years, from an environmental perspective that people are looking at,” said Doug Hall, deputy director of the Office of Protection Services for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season set a record as the costliest in history, with more than $200 billion in damages from June through November. Cost estimates for 2017’s California wildfires also top $200 billion, and they’re likely to keep increasing in the future as droughts and rising temperatures turn more land to tinder. “This is the new normal,” Gov. Jerry Brown of California said during a Dec. 9 news conference.

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Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World

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