What Caused the Massive Fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral?
The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is easily one of the most iconic landmarks in a city that's already filled with famous sights. Both a religious hub and a historical and architectural attraction, the 12th-century cathedral is visited by some 13 million people a year; a fact which made the fire that consumed portions of the famous building yesterday even more tragic for onlookers around the world.
Here's everything we know so far about what caused the devastation.
WHEN DID THE FIRE BREAK OUT?
Fire apparently broke out on the roof of Notre Dame on the evening of April 15, 2019.
The first fire alarm at Notre-Dame was triggered on Monday, April 15 at 6:20 p.m. The cathedral was evacuated and the alert was investigated but there was no sign of fire found on the scene, a spokesman for the Paris fire brigade told CNN. The alarm rang a second time shortly thereafter, at 6:43 p.m., at which point Notre Dame security spotted the fire in the wooden framework of the attic.
Close to 500 firefighters battled the blaze into the night before the fire was ultimately extinguished around 11 p.m. At least one firefighter was seriously injured but no fatalities have been reported from the incident.
The cathedral was declared structurally sound following an inspection the morning after the fire.
WHAT STARTED THE FIRE?
The origin of the blaze is not yet clear, and likely won't be for days or even weeks to come. As of publication, the fire is still being considered an accident by officials, with Paris prosecutor, Rémy Heitz stating that they are expecting “a long and complex investigation” surrounding the incident but that “nothing at this stage suggests a voluntary act.”
According to the New York Times, nearly 50 investigators have been assigned to the case thus far and appear to be focusing on construction workers who were participating in the $6.8 million renovation effort on Monday prior to the fire (by the time fire alarms began going off, the workmen appear to have left for the day.)
It is currently suspected that the fire may have been accidentally started as a result of some of the reconstruction work, with Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College telling the Times that “There’s a history of churches and synagogues and other houses of worship falling victim to construction fires.”
He further explained that this is often caused by the open flames and sparks associated with welding and similar construction hazards combined with flammable materials like the wooden beams that made up the interior of Notre-Dame's roof.
However, much of the potential evidence of what caused the fire was likely lost in the blaze itself; how much information it will be possible to uncover with regards to specific culpability has yet to be seen.
Three holes were left in the ceiling of Notre Dame following the fire and the fall of its famous spire.
HOW MUCH DAMAGE WAS CAUSED?
Two-thirds of Notre Dame's roof was destroyed, including three large holes that left the interior open to the sky. The famous 295-foot spire burned and fell during the fire,
It's not yet clear how much of the artwork that calls Notre Dame home was damaged in the fire—the French culture minister Franck Riester noted that many of the large paintings appear to be unharmed but will have to be assessed for water damage. The Crown of Thorns, which is considered the cathedral's most valuable relic, was saved from destruction along with a number of other items from the cathedral's treasury.
Other features have been preserved simply by happenstance—16 copper statues that formerly decorated the spire
WHAT KIND OF FIRE PREVENTION MEASURES DID NOTRE DAME HAVE?
Notre Dame's rector, Patrick Chauvet, told a French radio station on April 16 that the cathedral had taken fire safety seriously prior to the incident. “At the cathedral, we have fire monitors,” he said, per the Times. “Three times a day they go up, under the wooden roof, to make an assessment.” He also confirmed that there was an on-site fireman.
“For security, I don’t think we can do more,” he said, “But there is always an incident that you can’t predict.”
Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant, told the Times that due to the height and architecture of the cathedral, fire hose streams were not able to reach Notre Dame's roof and that fighting the fire on foot required a challenging climb up winding steps to reach the upper areas of the building. “These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” he said. “If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”
The city of Paris mourns the losses at Notre Dame following the fire that ravaged the cathedral’s structure in April 2019.
WILL THE CATHEDRAL BE REPAIRED?
French President Emmanuel Macron gave a short speech at Notre-Dame after the fire was extinguished, vowing that the cathedral would be rebuilt. “We will rebuild Notre-Dame,” he said. “Because that is what the French expect.”
Since then, pledges have begun pouring in to help rebuild the famous cathedral including $113 million from French billionaire François-Henri Pinault (husband of actress Salma Hayek) and his family and $226 million from LVMH Group CEO Bernard Arnault.
“It is really going to be up to the French state and benefactors to help to restore and rebuild this,” Robert Read, head of art and private clients at Hiscox, a business insurance service, told Reuters, explaining that while the contractors for the renovations likely would have tens of millions of dollars worth of insurance, that number would be likely to cover only a small portion of the overall cost of the rebuilding process.
He added that the total costs could be similar to those for the cost of renovating the Parliament building the U.K., which are estimated to cost as much as $8
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.