When the first fire alarm went off at Notre Dame cathedral on Monday evening, a staffer checked the most vulnerable part of the entire structure, the attic, and was relieved to see no flames, Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said Tuesday.
That didn't last. Within 23 minutes, the attic was ablaze. Known as "the forest," the attic was full of wooden beams from trees cut down between 1160 and 1170, and over the centuries, they became extremely dry. The cathedral has gone through restorations, but firewalls and sprinkler systems were never installed in order to protect the design of the structure. It was also risky to add electrical wiring to the forest. "Everyone knew that the attic was the most fragile part," Pierre Housieaux, president of the Paris Historical Association, told The New York Times.
The flames spread across the attic and roof, up to the spire, which then toppled over and fell through the cathedral's ceiling. Experts say had there been sprinklers inside, the damage might not have been as extensive. Firefighters were prepared, having done exercises at Notre Dame before, and knew to get their water from the Seine. At least 500 were on hand to battle the blaze, with 100 focusing on saving the artifacts and relics inside. The cathedral was undergoing renovations when the fire broke out, including to repair attic beams, construction engineer Olivier de Chalus told the Times. The attic, he added, was Notre Dame's "jewel, the true piece of art that wasn't accessible to many." Catherine Garcia
Fire officials in Paris declared the inferno that gutted Notre Dame cathedral on Monday "completely extinguished" by midmorning Tuesday, and authorities and experts began assessing the extent of the damage and the building's structural integrity. On Monday night, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed that France would rebuild Notre Dame, and by Tuesday morning, more than $300 million euros ($340 million) had been pledged toward that effort.
Notre Dame's roof and spire were destroyed in the fire, but the 400 firefighters who extinguished the blaze also saved priceless religious relics and works of art, not to mention the 850-year-old Gothic cathedral's stone walls and two main towers. French Culture Minister Franck Riester said early Tuesday that Notre Dame's storied organ had survived the fire, and at least one of its famous rose windows appeared to be intact.
Approaching Notre Dame early Tuesday, "from certain angles, it was almost possible to look head-on at the front of church and see its centuries-old rose windows and carved statues and imagine all was intact," The Washington Post reports. "But to stray to any other angle made clear the devastation. The roof was burned away, and there was an aching absence where the spire had been. Char and smoke marks licked the walls out of rose-round window frames where once there was stained glass. Water gushed in arcs onto wooden roof beams that once seemed eternal and now looked like used matchsticks."
CNN has more images and graphics of the fire that ravaged Notre Dame.
And you can take a 360-degree look at what Notre Dame looked like before the fire by dragging the image below. Peter Weber
Even the best possible outcome of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire will be utterly devastating.
Firefighters are currently responding to a raging fire at the iconic church, and former St. Louis firefighter Gregg Favre on Twitter observed that based on his experience, the best case scenario for the main part of the cathedral may look something like the damage caused by the 2016 fire at New York's Cathedral of St. Sava. Favre notes that a variety of factors, including wind conditions and responder access, could result in more or less damage, though.
My gut (and experience) tells me that best case scenario her is something similar to Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava Fire in NYC.
Should be noted that while St. Sava is huge in its own right, it is dwarfed buy #NotreDame.
Favre also explained that a variety of issues make fighting the fire difficult, including that it's "nearly impossible" to control ventilation in churches. Since the cathedral was undergoing renovations, he also expressed concern over construction materials that can explode and warned that the cathedral's walls could collapse if they're weakened by the fire.
The walls of #NotreDame are stout, but if weakened by fire and roofing timbers could come down.
Are the streets in the collapse zone cleared? Of both onlookers and responder/trucks? Any other buildings threatened?
Another issue, according to a spokesperson for the Paris mayor's office, is that firefighters are "having a lot of trouble getting at the fire because of all the construction," The Daily Beast reports. The Associated Press reports firefighters are currently fighting it both inside and outside of the cathedral, and a Notre Dame spokesperson previously said the entire frame is burning. Brendan Morrow