Notre Dame Cathedral Is Burning

 

This is a fast-moving story, and absolutely devastating development during Holy Week. The BBC reports:

A fire has broken out at the famous Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, firefighters say.
The cause is not yet clear, but officials say it could be linked to renovation work.
Images on social media show plumes of smoke billowing into the air above the the 850-year-old Gothic building.

Update: 8:23PM in Paris

Shep Smith on Fox News just reported that Paris fire fighters are just now beginning to get water on Notre Dame nearly three hours after the blaze was first reported.

Update 8:26PM in Paris

Notre Dame Spokesman: “Entire wooden interior of cathedral is burning, likely to be destroyed. Everything is burning. Nothing will remain from the frame.”

Update 9:12PM in Paris

The fire has spread to one of the two iconic bell towers, according to reports.

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  1. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    She (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    It took hours for the fire fighters to start fighting this fire. Did they not have a contingency plan for the possibility that Notre Dame caught fire?

    Don’t know what the story is on that. What they’ve said to this point is that it was rush hour, the streets were clogged and that it took time for them to clear the area. It seemed to take a very long time, though.

    Also, there were/are supposed to be water tanks in the roof in case of exactly this. Between the two roof sections, I think.

    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    Most of the burnable structural material in a medieval cathedral is above the interior vaulting (stone) and below the upper roof (usually lead and/or copper sheets).  Centuries old wood and dry as dust.  Once there’s a fire established in there, getting any sort of access for fighting it, in a reasonably safe manner is going to be well-nigh impossible.

    • #31
  2. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    She (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    It took hours for the fire fighters to start fighting this fire. Did they not have a contingency plan for the possibility that Notre Dame caught fire?

    Don’t know what the story is on that. What they’ve said to this point is that it was rush hour, the streets were clogged and that it took time for them to clear the area. It seemed to take a very long time, though.

    Also, there were/are supposed to be water tanks in the roof in case of exactly this. Between the two roof sections, I think.

    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    Not sure about the planes. That’s more for wildfires I think. They dump over a long area with little accuracy. But seems like helicopters could be used to take water from the Seine (Notre Dame is on an island, for those who don’t know) and dump it on the cathedral. Of course, the helicopters would have to be high enough up that their blades didn’t fan the flame and make it worse. So, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about controlling fires. But I’m shocked that Paris didn’t have a better plan.

    Rush hour? What, Parisians are such jerks that they don’t get out of the way for emergency vehicles? (I mean, they don’t pick up after their dogs but I have a hard time believing they don’t get out of the way of a siren.) I lived in and drove in New York City for 9 years. I’ve been in rush hour traffic when fire trucks or ambulances had to get through. Believe me, they got through. This excuse does not make sense to me. But what do I know.

    • #32
  3. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Any word of casualties? If there were people working in there, it’s hard to imagine that they all managed to evacuate.

    It’s heartbreaking.

    None reported so far, according to Fox.

     

    • #33
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    Locke On (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    It took hours for the fire fighters to start fighting this fire. Did they not have a contingency plan for the possibility that Notre Dame caught fire?

    Don’t know what the story is on that. What they’ve said to this point is that it was rush hour, the streets were clogged and that it took time for them to clear the area. It seemed to take a very long time, though.

    Also, there were/are supposed to be water tanks in the roof in case of exactly this. Between the two roof sections, I think.

    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    Most of the burnable structural material in a medieval cathedral is above the interior vaulting (stone) and below the upper roof (usually lead and/or copper sheets). Centuries old wood and dry as dust. Once there’s a fire established in there, getting any sort of access for fighting it, in a reasonably safe manner is going to be well-nigh impossible.

    I worry about this for my favorite cathedral in all the world, Worcester Cathedral in the English Midlands.  The attic of Worcester Cathedral contains an absolutely priceless and irreplaceable collection of Medieval manuscripts and artifacts.  A dozen or so years ago, Mr. She and I had the extraordinary privilege of a guided tour of same, by the Librarian, a gift from my sister who is a “Friend” of the Cathedral.  It was the experience of a lifetime, but I couldn’t help but think that a fire in the roof (just the sort of situation you describe, in terms of centuries old wood, dry as dust), could be devastating.

    • #34
  5. Burwick Chiffswiddle Member
    Burwick Chiffswiddle
    @Kephalithos

    Locke On (View Comment): Most of the burnable structural material in a medieval cathedral is above the interior vaulting (stone) and below the upper roof (usually lead and/or copper sheets). Centuries old wood and dry as dust. Once there’s a fire established in there, getting any sort of access for fighting it, in a reasonably safe manner is going to be well-nigh impossible.

    Indeed.

    • #35
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She (View Comment):
    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    Rivers are comparatively narrow and there are a lot of obstructions and obstacles (bridges, river traffic to name two). You need quite a bit of length to get down, loaded, and up again.

    • #36
  7. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    French authorities saying that dumping water from the sky was too dangerous because the weight of the water would itself have caused the structure to collapse.

    • #37
  8. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    • #38
  9. YouCantMeanThat Coolidge
    YouCantMeanThat
    @michaeleschmidt

    Far too many variables for reasonable speculation but… Hot work done to modern codes (and the EU has nothing if not the latest, greatest, and most voluminous codes) would have protective measures in place. Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity but…

    And the next time someone argues against sprinklers because they might cause water damage… wouldn’t you rather be fixing water damage?

    • #39
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    French authorities saying that dumping water from the sky was too danger because the weight of the water would itself have caused the structure to collapse.

    Well, they would say that. Anything to excuse inaction. As is, it has not only collapsed, it has burned everything within as well. So what did they really have to lose?

    • #40
  11. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    She (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    It took hours for the fire fighters to start fighting this fire. Did they not have a contingency plan for the possibility that Notre Dame caught fire?

    Don’t know what the story is on that. What they’ve said to this point is that it was rush hour, the streets were clogged and that it took time for them to clear the area. It seemed to take a very long time, though.

    Also, there were/are supposed to be water tanks in the roof in case of exactly this. Between the two roof sections, I think.

    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    Most of the burnable structural material in a medieval cathedral is above the interior vaulting (stone) and below the upper roof (usually lead and/or copper sheets). Centuries old wood and dry as dust. Once there’s a fire established in there, getting any sort of access for fighting it, in a reasonably safe manner is going to be well-nigh impossible.

    I worry about this for my favorite cathedral in all the world, Worcester Cathedral in the English Midlands. The attic of Worcester Cathedral contains an absolutely priceless and irreplaceable collection of Medieval manuscripts and artifacts. A dozen or so years ago, Mr. She and I had the extraordinary privilege of a guided tour of same, by the Librarian, a gift from my sister who is a “Friend” of the Cathedral. It was the experience of a lifetime, but I couldn’t help but think that a fire in the roof (just the sort of situation you describe, in terms of centuries old wood, dry as dust), could be devastating.

    We toured Worcester Cathedral about 30 years ago now.  Beautiful place.  Had no idea what was lurking in the attic!

    • #41
  12. Max Ledoux Coolidge
    Max Ledoux
    @Max

    One of the two iconic towers has now caught on fire.

    • #42
  13. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    She (View Comment):
    Have to say that I think Trump’s idea of water-tanker planes was quite a good one. Pick it up in the Seine, dump it on the cathedral. Not sure why it took them so long.

    From what I’m reading,  the planes are too far away, even if they could help.

    • #43
  14. RyanFalcone Member
    RyanFalcone
    @RyanFalcone

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    French authorities saying that dumping water from the sky was too danger because the weight of the water would itself have caused the structure to collapse.

    Well, they would say that. Anything to excuse inaction. As is, it has not only collapsed, it has burned everything within as well. So what did they really have to lose?

    Dumping tons of water from a hundred or so feet up would’ve likely taken down the walls and supporting structures as well. Just let the wood burn and rebuild on the stone structure that survives. Notre Dame has had several major projects in the past. Most of the major European cathedrals have been rebuilt and renovated several times. There are also lots of buildings in close proximity to the Cathedral. Missing your mark with an air drop could destroy a nearby structure.

    Plus,I’m not certain of the availability of air drop, fire fighting aircraft anywhere near Paris. A fire fighting barge in the river would’ve been ideal. However, as I recall (I visited the Cathedral around 30 years ago) the river is not that big.

    • #44
  15. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Live coverage on German TV is showing that all of the wooden structure, the spire the main body over the basilica appears to be destroyed completely. There area several hundred firemen on the scene. From what one can see only the barest skeleton of the structure will saveable. 

    • #45
  16. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Any word of casualties? If there were people working in there, it’s hard to imagine that they all managed to evacuate.

    It’s heartbreaking.

    None reported so far, according to Fox.

     

    The press here is reporting no deaths but no report on injuries yet. Some people may have been injured. The sight of the flames through the huge rosette window was hideous and heart rending. 

    • #46
  17. RyanFalcone Member
    RyanFalcone
    @RyanFalcone

    She (View Comment):

    RyanFalcone (View Comment):

    I used to restore churches. With old historic structures, sometimes the methods and materials used to do work on them are heavily scrutinized by historic review boards and commissions and those methods and materials aren’t the safest. Modern fire suppression tech and fire retardant materials may not be allowed in projects such as this. It doesn’t take much for a spark to hit a pot of boiling pitch and for all hell to break loose in an instant.

    I would prefer it to be something like that, if the “spark” can be traced to a tool integral to the renovation. Dread the thought that it was some construction worker on a break having a smoke, and flicking his ash into a bucket of pitch. Or worse.

    I was on a job once where the carpenters left a pile of sawdust in the sunlight. We all went out to lunch and came back to find the local VFD putting out a small fire that we caused. I saw a church burn because an extension chord used to light a Christmas tree got too hot. Strange things can cause fires.

    • #47
  18. Hartmann von Aue Member
    Hartmann von Aue
    @HartmannvonAue

    Good Lord the metal scaffolding that was in place for the repairs is glowing red hot. 

    • #48
  19. She Member
    She
    @She

    Locke On (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    I worry about this for my favorite cathedral in all the world, Worcester Cathedral in the English Midlands. The attic of Worcester Cathedral contains an absolutely priceless and irreplaceable collection of Medieval manuscripts and artifacts. A dozen or so years ago, Mr. She and I had the extraordinary privilege of a guided tour of same, by the Librarian, a gift from my sister who is a “Friend” of the Cathedral. It was the experience of a lifetime, but I couldn’t help but think that a fire in the roof (just the sort of situation you describe, in terms of centuries old wood, dry as dust), could be devastating.

    We toured Worcester Cathedral about 30 years ago now. Beautiful place. Had no idea what was lurking in the attic!

    I hope you can go back sometime.  The library alone is worth the visit.  It is a lovely cathedral, in part, I think, because it’s big enough to be interesting, but small enough to be comprehended in one’s mind.  My absolute favorite part of it, because I think it’s so holy, is the crypt, which dates from the tenth century.  I loved our tour of the nave, which included such little gems as pointing out the carving done by the medievals, and things like the “cat” on one side of the arch, and the “mouse” running away from it on the other.  Such fun.  Those medieval craftsmen had a sweet and fey sense of humor. I’m sure some of that was on display at Notre Dame (which I’ve never visited).  But now it’s gone.

    Worcester Cathedral is also special in the annals of the English Church, because it escaped most of the depredations of that rat-[expletive] Henry VIII because his brother, Arthur (with whom I share a birthday), was buried there.  On my own part, every trip to England I make includes a stop at Worcester Cathedral to visit the tomb of King John, who I think has been very badly done by in terms of history.

    Here’s Dad and King John in, I think, 1999:

    • #49
  20. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Three hours? Sorry, it’s not a good excuse that it was rush hour.

    Rush hour? People dont move aside for firetrucks in Paris? WTF!! It’s the second most iconic building in France, put some effort into saving it. Three hours…seriously!? 

    In a more superstitious time this might be seen as a really bad omen. Hard not to feel like it is. 

    Has anyone been hurt? It sounds like no ones been killed or injured which we may consider a small mercy. 

    Still we should remember that Easter is the ultimate example of God turning seeming tragedy and defeat into a vehicle for limitless Grace. 

    • #50
  21. John Park Member
    John Park
    @jpark

    The chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, VA was destroyed by fire after incense was improperly disposed of. That stuff burns for a long time.

    • #51
  22. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Burwick Chiffswiddle (View Comment):

    Locke On (View Comment): Most of the burnable structural material in a medieval cathedral is above the interior vaulting (stone) and below the upper roof (usually lead and/or copper sheets). Centuries old wood and dry as dust. Once there’s a fire established in there, getting any sort of access for fighting it, in a reasonably safe manner is going to be well-nigh impossible.

    Indeed.

    Maybe we need to start spraying some fire retardant foam up in these old structures over the wood. Notre Dame (darn phone keyboards) is not the only such building in Europe.

    • #52
  23. She Member
    She
    @She

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Any word of casualties? If there were people working in there, it’s hard to imagine that they all managed to evacuate.

    It’s heartbreaking.

    None reported so far, according to Fox.

     

    The press here is reporting no deaths but no report on injuries yet. Some people may have been injured. The sight of the flames through the huge rosette window was hideous and heart rending.

    I have read that the glass is melting.  Oh, how I hope that is not true.

    • #53
  24. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    She (View Comment):

    Dreadful. Reports are that part of the cathedral are collapsing. It looks worse on TV now, and as though the fire is moving along the long nave section. Very sad.

    On a comical note, the Fox anchor just said that Joan of Arc was “beautified” at Notre Dame many years ago.

    Perhaps she was in English class with Senator Gillibrand of “tactile” missile fame. Or they skipped class together.

     

    • #54
  25. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    EDs,

    All that I’ve heard from Claire is from her own twitter feed.

    https://twitter.com/ClaireBerlinski/status/1117859890750316551

    Claire Berlinski
    Verified account
    @ClaireBerlinski
    Follow Follow @ClaireBerlinski

    I am fine. My father’s been evacuated. It’s sad beyond expression. What you’re seeing in the news is right. #notredame. Nothing to add to the next reports.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #55
  26. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):
    Not sure about the planes. That’s more for wildfires I think. They dump over a long area with little accuracy. But seems like helicopters could be used to take water from the Seine (Notre Dame is on an island, for those who don’t know) and dump it on the cathedral.

    I guess this technology is beyond the French?

    • #56
  27. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces, le Seigneur est avec vous; vous ętes bénie entre toutes les femmes, et Jésus le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni. Sainte Marie, Mčre de Dieu, priez pour nous pécheurs, maintenant, et ŕ l’heure de notre mort. Amen.

     

    I am so saddened.

    • #57
  28. She Member
    She
    @She

    Kozak (View Comment):

    Max Ledoux (View Comment):
    Not sure about the planes. That’s more for wildfires I think. They dump over a long area with little accuracy. But seems like helicopters could be used to take water from the Seine (Notre Dame is on an island, for those who don’t know) and dump it on the cathedral.

    I guess this technology is beyond the French?

    I’ve read that they considered that.  I don’t know what the rationale was for “do it”/”don’t do it,” but I suppose those questions will be asked, and hopefully answered over the next few days.

    • #58
  29. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    She (View Comment):
    I don’t know what the rationale was for “do it”/”don’t do it,” but I suppose those questions will be asked, and hopefully answered over the next few days.

    I suspect all the answers will be on the line of a Gallic shrug.

    • #59
  30. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Ricochet Editors' Desk: The fire has spread to one of the two iconic bell towers, according to reports.

    So, it looks like another set of twin towers are in danger . . .

    • #60
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