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Notre Dame De Pairs - Reconstruction After The Fire - Paris, France
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Notre Dame de Pairs - Reconstruction After the Fire - Paris, France
On 15 April 2019, just before 18:20 CEST, a structure fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral in Paris. By the time it was extinguished, the building’s spire and most of its roof had been destroyed and its upper walls severely damaged; extensive damage to the interior was prevented by its stone vaulted ceiling, which largely contained the burning roof as it collapsed. Many works of art and religious relics were moved to safety early in the emergency, but others suffered some smoke damage, and some exterior art was damaged or destroyed. The cathedral’s altar, two pipe organs, and its three 13th-century rose windows, suffered little to no damage. Three emergency workers were injured. Contamination of the site and the nearby environment resulted.
President Emmanuel Macron said that the cathedral would be restored, and launched a fundraising campaign which brought in pledges of over €1 billion as of 22 April 2019. A complete restoration could require twenty years or more.
The cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”), part of the “Paris, Banks of the Seine” UNESCO World Heritage Site, was begun in the 12th century. Its walls and interior vaulted ceiling are of stone; its roof and flèche (spire) were of wood (much of it 13th-century oak), sheathed in lead to exclude water. The spire was rebuilt several times, most recently in the 19th century.
The cathedral’s stonework has been severely eroded by years of weather and pollution,12 and the spire had extensively rotted because fissures in its lead sheathing were admitting water. In 2014, the Ministry of Culture estimated needed renovations at €150 million, and in 2016 the Archdiocese of Paris launched an appeal to raise €100 million over the following five to ten years. At the time of the fire, the spire was undergoing renovation and scaffolding had been erected over the transept.
Extensive attention had been given to the risk of fire at the cathedral. The Paris Fire Brigade drilled regularly to prepare for emergencies there, including on-site exercises in 2018; a firefighter was posted to the cathedral each day; and fire wardens checked conditions beneath the roof three times daily.
Fire broke out in the attic beneath the cathedral’s roof at 18:18. At 18:20 the fire alarm sounded and guards evacuated the cathedral; a guard was sent to investigate, but to the wrong location – the attic of the adjoining sacristy – where he found no fire. About fifteen minutes later the error was discovered, but by the time guards had climbed the three hundred steps to the cathedral attic the fire was well advanced. The alarm system was not designed to automatically notify the fire brigade, which was summoned at 18:51 after the guards had returned. Firefighters arrived within ten minutes.
Police evacuated the Île de la Cité. White smoke rising from the roof turned black before flames appeared from the spire, then turned yellow.
Firefighters using a deluge gun:
More than 400 firefighters were engaged; another hundred worked to move precious objects to safety via a human chain[ also including police and municipal workers.
The fire was primarily fought from inside the structure, which was more dangerous for personnel but reduced potential damage to the cathedral; applying water from outside risked deflecting flames and hot gases (at temperatures up to 800 °C or 1500 °F) inwards. Deluge guns were used at lower-than-usual pressures to minimize damage to the cathedral and its contents. Water was supplied by pump-boat from the Seine.
Aerial firefighting was not used because water dropped from heights could have done structural damage, and heated stone can crack if suddenly cooled. Helicopters were not used because of dangerous updrafts but drones were used for visual and thermal imaging, and robots for visual imaging and directing water streams. Molten lead falling from the roof posed a special hazard for firefighters.
By 18:52, smoke was visible from outside; flames appeared in the next ten minutes, as firefighters arrived. The spire of the cathedral collapsed at 19:50, creating a draft that slammed all the doors and sent a fireball through the attic. Firefighters then retreated from within the attic. Shortly before the spire fell, the fire had spread to the wooden framework inside the north tower, which supported eight very large bells. Had the bells fallen, it was thought that the damage done as they fell could have collapsed the towers, and with them the entire cathedral. At 20:30, firefighters abandoned attempts to extinguish the roof and concentrated on saving the towers, fighting from within and between the towers. By 21:45 the fire was under control.
Adjacent apartment buildings were evacuated due to concern about possible collapse, but on 19 April the fire brigade ruled out that risk. One firefighter and two police officers were injured.
Spire of Notre Dame de Paris
The area directly under the crossing and two other cells of vaulting collapsed The roof reduced to piles of char atop the mostly-intact vaults
Most of the wood/metal roof and the spire of the cathedral was destroyed, with about one third of the roof remaining. The remnants of the roof and spire fell atop the stone vault underneath, which forms the ceiling of the cathedral’s interior. Some sections of this vaulting collapsed in turn, allowing debris from the burning roof to fall to the marble floor below, but most sections remained intact due to the use of rib vaulting, greatly reducing damage to the cathedral’s interior and objects within.
The cathedral contained a large number of artworks, religious relics, and other irreplaceable treasures, including a crown of thorns said to be the one Jesus wore at his crucifixion, a purported piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, the Tunic of St. Louis, a much-rebuilt pipe organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and the 14th-century Virgin of Paris statue.
Some artwork had been removed in preparation for the renovations, and most of the cathedral’s sacred relics were held in the adjoining sacristy, which the fire did not reach; all the cathedral’s relics survived. Some contents were moved by a human chain of emergency workers and civil servants. Many valuables that were not removed also survived, but the state of many others remained unknown as of 16 April.
Lead joints in some of the 19th-century stained-glass windows melted, but the three major rose windows, dating to the 13th century, were undamaged. One weakened window may need to be dismantled for safekeeping. Several pews were destroyed and the vaulted arches were blackened by smoke, though the church’s main cross and altar survived, along with the statues surrounding it.
Some paintings, apparently only smoke-damaged, are expected to be transported to the Louvre for restoration. A number of statues, including those of the twelve Apostles at the base of the spire, had been removed in preparation for renovations. The rooster-shaped reliquary atop the spire was found damaged among the debris. The three pipe organs were not significantly damaged. The largest of the cathedral’s bells, the bourdon, was not damaged. The liturgical treasury of the cathedral and the “grands Mays” paintings were moved to safety.
March 18th, 2020
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