As devastating brushfires rage across Australia, burning more than 14.7 million acres of land as of Monday, museums have begun closing due to dangerously smoky air. The Art Newspaper reports that the National Gallery of Australia in the capital city of Canberra shut its doors on Sunday as a precautionary measure for visitors, staff members, and artworks at the institution.
In a statement posted to Twitter, the museum said that it closed “to mitigate any risk to the public, staff, and works of art on display.”
Nick Mitzevich, director of the museum, told the Australian newspaper the Daily Telegraph that reopening is contingent upon air quality conditions, and the institution remained shuttered on Monday. An exhibition of works by Matisse and Picasso is currently mounted at the museum.
“The bushfire is really having an effect and we can’t guarantee the safety of our air quality in the building, with the movements of the doors opening and closing,” Mitzevich told the Daily Telegraph.
The Guardian reports that Canberra currently has the world’s worst air quality, with index readings rising well beyond what are considered “hazardous” conditions.
The National Museum of Australia, also located in Canberra, was open on Monday but alerted visitors to its website that “due to poor air quality our hours may change at short notice.”
The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra closed on Sunday and is now “monitoring the smoke situation in Canberra on a day-to-day basis and will remain open unless conditions reach similar levels to Sunday,” according to a museum representative. If the museum shutters again this week it will aim to update its social media pages with relevant information by 8 a.m. on days with closures. “But because this is an unprecedented situation, we’re just taking each day as it comes,” the rep added.
According to CNN, the fires have already killed more than 20 people across Australia, and an estimated 480 million animals in the southeastern state of New South Wales—including a third of the state’s koala population—have perished as a result of the blazes. More than 1,300 homes in New South Wales have been destroyed, and 136 fires were still burning in the state on Monday. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a $1.39 billion fund for rebuilding efforts.