Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

In June 2005, a set of three nitrate motion-picture films ignited a fire in a storage unit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, Washington. These flammable materials were correctly housed in cold storage, but a malfunction caused the temperature to rise to more than 100°F. Along with the three motion-picture films, two boxes containing about 300 sheets of nitrate-based photographic film depicting life in eastern Washington over the last century were destroyed.

A conservator, hired to salvage negatives damaged by water from the sprinkler system, recommended that the museum copy the negatives onto a safer format, polyester film, and dispose of the original nitrate-based negatives. Response to the fire and subsequent water damage was hampered by the lack of an updated disaster plan for collections in the museum’s new building.