On Arson and Notre Dame

 

Thank you for your warm, kind, and compassionate comments about the fire at Notre Dame. For most of the world, this was a tragedy in a far-away place; for me, it was a devastating fire in my neighborhood, one that’s left everyone here, including me, quite shaken up.

I’ve received several e-mails, and seen in the comments, suggestions to the effect that “it’s hard not to wonder if the fire were started by Muslim terrorists,” along with comments that say, “We’ll never know the truth,” because were this so, it would be hidden from “the likes of us.”

I think I can ease your concerns in this respect. Here is what is true. It is true, according to a report of the Ministry of the Interior, that in 2017, there were 978 attacks on religious buildings and graveyards in France, including 878 against Christian sites. It is also true that recently, thugs and vandals have done an extraordinary amount of violence and damage to buildings of every sort during demonstrations in Paris, Lyon, and many other cities. But yes, arsonists and vandals have been targeting French churches in a wave of attacks that’s lasted nearly two months. Some have been set on fire, while others have been desecrated or damaged. For example:

  • The large wooden door on the southern transept St. Sulpice, the second-largest church in Paris, after Notre Dame Cathedral, was set ablaze on March 17. Investigators confirmed one day later that arsonists were to blame. Someone drenched rags in kerosene and threw them in the church. It’s still unclear whether it was a settling of accounts between homeless people—the clothes belonged to a homeless person—or a deliberate attack on the church itself.
  • In early February, the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Enfants in Nimes, near the Spanish border, was invaded by intruders who drew a cross on a wall with excrement then stuck consecrated hosts to it. The tabernacle was broken, and other consecrated hosts were destroyed.
  • The Church of St Nicholas in Houilles, in north-central France, was targeted by intruders who destroyed a statue of Mary and threw the altar cross to the floor.
  • Statues of saints were broken and an altar cloth set on fire in Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. Hosts were stolen from the Church of Notre-Dame in Dijon, in eastern France, and scattered on the ground.
  • French media reported a 35-year-old man has confessed to police to carrying out the attack in Houilles, but the mystery surrounding the identities of other culprits has fueled speculation that the offenses might have been carried out by Islamic extremists, secularists, radical feminists, or in response to revelations of sexual abuse in the clergy.
  • In February, the French bishops expressed their solidarity with the country’s Jews following the release of figures that showed a 74 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks the previous year, with 541 crimes documented in 2018. Most attacks involved physical violence and abuse, the profaning of shops, and the desecration of monuments and cemeteries.
  • On February 6, vandals broke into the tabernacle at the church of Notre-Dame-des-Enfants, in Nîmes. (6 February). They scattered the hosts on the ground, drew a cross on the wall with excrement and damaged other religious items in the churchs.
  • On February 9, fire broke out and a church was vandalized in Dijon.
  • Fire and vandalism damaged the Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, south-central France, on February 5. An altar cloth was found burnt and crosses and statues were torn down or disfigured.
  • From January 25 to February 25, Yvelines suffered repeated acts of vandalism. A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was found smashed on the ground, another on the tabernacle. Before that, the altar cross had been found on the ground and the celebrant’s chair was damaged.
  • The church of Saint Nicolas in Maisons-Laffitte was vandalized on February 10. The tabernacle was opened and the Eucharist scattered. An altar cloth was stained and a missal book was torn.

The spate of vandalism recalls the series of attacks and vandalism committed by ISIS against the Catholic Church in France and Belgium in 2016, culminating in the unbearable murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel, killed by jihadists while celebrating Mass at a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy. NB: The suspects, in all the above cases, are not only usual ones. In some cases the motive for the attacks is not known; in others, the police have blamed anarchist and feminist groups. (Despite being a secular country, France has long been viewed as a culturally Christian one. So, any nut who’s keen to carry out an attack against authority and “the patriarchy” would think first of targeting a church. There has been some speculation, too, that the attacks may be connected to revelations of the sexual abuse scandal in Catholicism. That has not, at least, helped to reduce ambient levels of anticlericalism. The weekly orgies of lawlessness and vandalism associated with the Gilets Jaunes’ movement have also lowered the barrier to entry to anyone who wants to try giving vandalism for kicks a shot.

That said, I see no reason to think the fire at Notre Dame was started intentionally. Notre Dame is the country’s highest-value terrorist target — second perhaps only to the president and the Senate. It is under 24-hour security watch, with cameras trained on it from every angle; it’s patrolled both by the military and the counter-terror police, including plainclothes. Also, there are thousands of personal cameras trained on it at any given minutes because tourists take pictures there all day long. If an arsonist had done something as strange as scaling the church, Spiderman-style, to reach the place where the fire broke out, we’d have thousands of photos of it — and someone would have stopped him.

The fire started from the top (I saw this). Or more precisely, from the base of the steeple. No arsonist, however determined, could have made his way up there without anyone noticing. I’ve been up to the attic, with my grandfather. It isn’t easy to get up there—it’s nearly 60 meters above the ground, to get there you use a spiral staircase which is closed at the base by a heavy, locked door —and there’s just no way someone could have evaded detection to do it. The attic isn’t open to the public.

Their working hypothesis is the obvious one. They’d been carrying out restoration work in the spire to strengthen it. As part of the work, they installed elevators to the roof. The suspicion is that an electrical fault started the blaze. Negligence may have been involved: One of the fire alarms went off but in a different section of the building. The inspectors didn’t see the fire, so they dismissed it, losing precious time. By the time the security guards saw the first flames, they were already several meters high.

The authorities know exactly who had access to the attic. That night, even before the fire had been put out, prosecutors interrogated roughly 30 people from five different construction companies who had been there before the fire broke out. These people are not ordinary construction workers; they’re highly trained professionals who have trained for years in the painstaking art of restoring gothic cathedrals. You don’t make a career in restoring gothic cathedrals if you’re the sort who wants to see them burn. They interrogated them on the night of the fire and had probably already cross-checked their names in all their databases to see if any of them had a criminal record or a radical political past, Islamist or anti-clerical. That’s not a “too-quick dismissal” of the arson theory; it’s most than enough time to come to a reasonably strong conclusion that arson is not the lead hypothesis.

An arsonist would have done what the vandals did in the cases I cited above, or he would have thrown a Molotov cocktail into the nave. He wouldn’t have climbed to the attic, with everyone on the street watching, then set a tiny blaze that no one would notice for another half an hour.

Nor would the police here be in the least hesitant to say they suspected it was arson, if indeed they suspected it. The reason you know that the the fires at other churches were started by arsonists is because the police said so. You can’t hide something like that. Just like Washington, Paris leaks, and if there had been any decision to try to cover up the truth, you can be sure someone would have tipped off the press and the Senate and the opposition politicians. France, like the US, is a fractious, vibrant democracy, and it’s still under the rule of law. A cover-up like that would be illegal as hell. Being told to cover up the results of a lawful investigation would scandalize the prosecutors. They wouldn’t consent. It would leak, a thousand times over; or more likely, they’d just come forward, we’d see resignations on principle, and total political hysteria. They couldn’t even cover up what Benalla did, and that was a thousand times less significant. No government official, fire service official, or police service official in Paris has suggested any evidence of arson. That means there’s probably no evidence.

Now to be precise, they haven’t ruled out the idea that it was deliberate. They’ve said their chief investigative thesis is that it wasn’t, because there’s thus far no evidence that it was, and by appeal to Occam’s razor, “an accident” is the most obvious hypothesis. Great buildings are vulnerable to fire during restoration because of the tools and chemicals that must be used, and because they’re very old. Cathedrals like Notre Dame are at acute risk because of their ancient wooden roofs. If they weren’t so old and precious, they’d be condemned as firetraps. Construction work on a cathedral is always especially risky because of the open flames and sparks associated with welding and other construction hazards. Windsor Castle burned in 1992, IIRC; the fire began with a bright lamp and cleaning solvent. I don’t wager the workers would have been reckless enough to have smoked in Notre Dame, but then again, I notice that the workers who are right now carrying out restoration on my building sometimes smoke on the scaffolding.

As the cathedral burned on Monday, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, and deliberate disinformation campaigns went viral on social media—many of them coming from Our Friends the Russians, as usual, and some even gaining mention on live US TV coverage. I suppose it’s inevitable. When you combine an international event of so much emotional significance with the rapid dissemination of news on social media, you’re going to get misinformation and, sometimes, completely fabricated conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, this is upsetting for people who lived through the event and who experienced it not only as the global trauma it was but as a personal one, too. Or to put it more plainly: It upsets me.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue told Neil Cavuto that, “if it is an accident, it’s a monumental tragedy. But forgive me for being suspicious.”

“Just last month, a 17th-century church was set on fire in Paris,” Donohue said. “We have seen tabernacles knocked down, crosses have been torn down, statues have been smashed.” In another interview with Host Shep Smith, Philippe Karsenty — the deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine — said something similar: “We’ve had churches desecrated each and every week all over France” over the past few years. “You will hear the story of the political correctness which will tell you it’s probably an accident, but I don’t think,” he said before he was abruptly (but rightly) cut off by Smith.

Internet users speculated that it was a terrorist act, as did one video that made the rounds showing some guy walking toward one of the cathedral’s towers not long after the fire started with the caption: “No workers present at the time that the Notre Dame Cathedral fire started……So who is this guy dressed in Muslim garb??”

Well, first, he wasn’t dressed in “Muslim garb.” Second, he was a firefighter.

There’s a long history of church fires caused by renovation accidents (the easiest way to ensure that your church is burned down is to try to repair it) because welding and cutting tools are often in use, and large parts of older structures are made of wood. The roof of Notre Dame was made of 5,000 oak trees, felled some 750 years ago and now perfect tinder, so any spark or electric arc from the renovation could easily start a fire. So that’s probably what happened. There’s no evidence of foul play, and if there were, we’d be told of it. And there is some chance we will never know: Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said the investigation would be “long and complex,” explaining that approximately 50 investigators had begun a probe into the 12-hour-long fire. The evidence may have perished in the blaze.

I hope that sets your minds at ease. Alas, here, our complaint is with a much higher authority.

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  1. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    Thanks for this careful review of the facts as now known. I have found that it is usually wise to let the investigation play itself out and to avoid speculation. Truth is, I see the fire not as the result of foul play in the criminal sense, but of the sort that has led us to the current cultural crisis across the west. A metaphor on what we’ve lost and do not seem much interested in recovering.

    • #1
  2. Peter Gøthgen Member
    Peter Gøthgen
    @PeterGothgen

    There was a fascinating article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal about the decades of neglect that had led to many parts of Notre Dame starting to crumble.  What was most concerning to me was that it described the flying buttresses starting to crumble, which would have led to walls collapsing.  With all the attention being drawn to Notre Dame by the fire, and the outpouring of support, this may now all be fixed.

    So, in essence, the fire may well have saved the cathedral.  An epic disaster is discovered a few days later to be the engine of salvation.  The fact that this happened right before Easter may be the divine equivalent of dropping the microphone.

    • #2
  3. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    If this had occurred in 1999, the public response would have been, “What a tragic accident.” After 20 years of the elites telling us, “That’s not urine falling on your head, it’s raining.”, people have become skeptical of official explanations. The other aspect is instantaneous communication. Mankind’s ability to think things through has been trampled by bounteous bandwidth.

    • #3
  4. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Thank you for actual information, calmly communicated. ‘Til now I’ve ignored coverage of the event and polemics after it. I figured I’d learn nothing. Since I wasn’t paying attention, I can’t claim I was right. But I bet I was. This was only the second piece on its subject I read in its entirety. The first was by Mark Steyn, and I think he was uncharacteristically premature.

    Anyway, while I was waiting for tempers to cool a bit and intelligence to rise a bit, I got to thinking of the destruction of the Mostar bridge in Bosnia. Not really comparable: it was considered a military target and it got what military targets get. But it made a big impression, to the extent I have heard mentions of it in both a Turkish rock song and a Turkish TV series. The shots were almost certainly fired across cultures, they were meant to be heard, and the wreckage they left was meant to be seen. The impression was that The people who did this are capable of anything. Which seems to be the same impression the Notre Dame fire has left.

    • #4
  5. Gary Robbins Member
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Thank you for debunking the latest conspiracy controversy.

    • #5
  6. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Just like Washington, Paris leaks, and if there had been any decision to try to cover up the truth, you can be sure someone would have tipped off the press and the Senate and the opposition politicians.

    And in France, just like in the US, there’s a liberal press that wants to suppress any information if it leads to Muslim involvement.

    When working with wood, professionals doing hot work take many precautions.  There are fire watches stationed, and hot equipment is not abandoned until it’s cooled down.  One possible explanation could be a random spark from a grinder leaving the area unnoticed.  We won’t know anything until after the physical part of the investigation.

    As for leaks, threats of a severe reprisal from one’s superiors can work for a while.  Only time will tell . . .

    • #6
  7. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    It seems this must be an accident with an elevator starting the fire.  The world is awash with elevator fires burning things down.  It is a wonder we are allowed to use such things.  But an elevator it is because a government has dictated it so.  We all know how honest governments are and how unreliable elevators are.

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: The fire started from the top (I saw this). Or more precisely, from the base of the steeple.

    This single fact explains how the fire gained so much momentum before it was detected. In fact, by itself it answers so many of my questions. :-) Thank you. 

    I ignored the talk of arson until I heard that there had been hundreds of acts of vandalism in the churches in France over the past year. I admit I wondered if Notre Dame was some vandal’s pièce de résistance. Thank you for addressing that concern. 

    The Wall Street Journal has provided wonderful coverage of the story, particularly of the brave firefighters who saved the artwork. 

    Also, last night I stumbled upon this beautiful recording of the last music performed in the cathedral before it burned. 

    I am glad you and your dad are safe and sound and can return to enjoying some semblance of a joyful spring in the most beautiful city in the world. :-) 

     

    • #8
  9. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    This story is very hard to read on Easter Sunday.  As magnificent as Notre Dame is, your description of the despicable desecration of so many churches in recent years and months is beyond appalling, much of which has not been reported in that detail in the US news.  This, along with the increased attacks on Jews, and other holy places such as cemeteries, it sounds like rebuilding Notre Dame is the easiest part.  You hear of this sort of thing in a war zone like Syria and Iraq by people like ISIS, not civilized society.  It seems how to rebuild the hearts and minds of the broken people in France and elsewhere is a bigger story. Beyond sad.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    If this had occurred in 1999, the public response would have been, “What a tragic accident.” After 20 years of the elites telling us, “That’s not urine falling on your head, it’s raining.”, people have become skeptical of official explanations. The other aspect is instantaneous communication. Mankind’s ability to think things through has been trampled by bounteous bandwidth.

    When the flaperon of a Boeing 777 washed up on Reunion Island, it took French investigators weeks to determine that the flaperon in question came from Flight MH 370. That might seem a trifle long, but they wanted certainty. Certainty requires thoroughness, and thoroughness requires time.

    In the Notre Dame fire, the government announced the preliminary focus of their future investigations while the firefighters were still fighting the fire.

    Given that I don’t trust my government, why would I trust France’s?

    An announcement the next day, stating the facts as presented above, would have been better received. Blurting it out to the media did nothing to curtail speculation, and may well have fueled it.

    The French should hire Claire to write their press releases.

    (I hadn’t formed an opinion. I like to wait for those fact thingies to sort themselves out. My initial reaction to the announcement was: “Pipe down, François.”)

    • #10
  11. She Member
    She
    @She

    I’ve been in contact with the Librarian at Worcester Cathedral in the UK , which has a collection of priceless books and manuscripts located in the — umm — attic.  Building commenced on the current site in the mid-eleventh century, and continued till the mid-fourteenth.  Although one of the early towers fell down, the fabric of the monastery and church mostly survived the depredations of Henry VIII because his brother, Arthur, is buried there, but it fell on hard times during the English Civil War (Worcester was prime battleground territory) and parts of it have been rebuilt and restored over the centuries.  It’s my favorite British cathedral, large enough, and certainly old enough, to have all the bells and whistles, but small enough for the human mind to encompass and comprehend.  Plus, it’s the cathedral for my home diocese.

    On Wednesday of last week, they invited the local fire brigade pay a house call, to advise them on what to to do foreclose the possibility of a Notre Dame-level catastrophe, regardless of the cause. 

    I hope that countless other cathedrals and historic buildings around the world are doing the same, and may that be one positive outcome of this horrible event.

    • #11
  12. Brian Watt Inactive
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Thank you, Claire for the comprehensive and dispassionate report and putting the incident in the necessary forensic, political, religious, and cultural context. A few observations:

    It should be noted that citing the vandalism and attacks on numerous Catholic churches and the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel is information more readily acceptable in print form than on network television news. Had you been interviewed by Shepherd Smith, and attempted to say something along the lines of, “Shepherd, I understand that given the hundreds of attacks on Christian and Catholic sites in and around France the people’s emotions may be a bit raw but that it would be wise to wait for all of the info – – ” you also may have been cut off.

    To some extent, this can be blamed on the different dynamics of broadcast media versus print. In print, addressing those attacks and establishing context to understand why people may be concerned that the fire at Notre Dame could have been a terrorist attack can be reviewed more calmly and rationally by the reader – as you have done here. The medium of a TV news program that is more instantaneous and immediately visceral – and thus less measured and rational (especially in America and Britain) speculation is subject to immediate censorship because of the perceived prospect of lending credence to an unestablished and unconfirmed narrative spinning out of control that could cause panic or backlash, in this case, in the streets of Paris which in the last few months has already seen its share of mayhem. I can excuse Shepherd Smith’s overbearing censorship to a point. Unfortunately for him, he has a reputation for shutting down comments on the air that he personally finds offensive and often slants his reporting. So, that doesn’t serve him well. 

    The nature and dynamic of the Internet also provides an additional layer of challenge. On the one hand, people have access to more comprehensive reporting and information; on the other, people may fall prey to incomplete, distorted or just wrong information and then, with an air of confidence, begin to assume that a) the whole truth about any given news story is being withheld for nefarious reasons, because they have what they believe is information that refutes what authorities on scene are saying, and b) that they see a groundswell of like-minded thinking from others online that confirms their biases or theories…therefore, how could millions of others online be wrong? The “authorities” or “they” must be withholding the real truth…and after all, haven’t the authorities lied to the people on countless other occasions? A sentiment that from time to time has a certain grain or a massive boulder of truth (i.e., the career and behavior of both William Jefferson and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the deceptions of Barack Obama, Susan Rice, Eric Holder, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, etc., etc.)

    Unfortunately, in the latter example,  those that begin to assume that “they” (the authorities) must be withholding the real truth get more exacerbated and angry when their theories don’t get a proper airing or serious consideration or even take offense when they assertions are challenged. 

    Finally, if the final determination about the fire in Notre Dame is that it was started by an electrical short perhaps to do with one of the temporary construction elevators, like 9/11, there will be a contingent who will never agree with the findings despite what evidence comes to light. Your additional information today at least is a sober and rational attempt to put everything in a clear frame of reference even if some still discount it or dismiss it altogether.

    • #12
  13. Ida Claire Member
    Ida Claire
    @IdaClaire

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to be suspicious. The initial determination of accidental fire was made while Notre Dame was still burning. They produced no eyewitness, and we’re clearly unable to begin an investigation. This was pure spin.

    Of course it could have been an electrical fault, but I would like to hear about the investigator’s process for the determination of the point of origin of the fire.

    Given the propensity of the French government (and Claire) to downplay the threat of Islamists, the background of church vandalism and defilement in France, that 3days prior to Notre Dame burning an Islamist terrorist had been sentenced to 8 years for attempting to bomb  the Notre Dame… and the fact that Islamist terrorists tend to attack Christians during Holy Week (they are more ecumenical during Ramadan),  I remain suspicious.

    Today in Sri Lanka 8 bombs we’re detonated in Churches and hotels. About 200 christians have been killed while worshipping, and about 500 more injured. One of the suicide bombers has been tentatively identified as Abu Mohammed. It is possible that this has nothing to do with islamist terrorism, but it is reasonable to be suspicious. And sad. Very sad.

    The picture Claire posted of the Cross in the burned out husk of Notre Dame is worth meditating on.  From the ashes rose the glory of God bringing hope and love. He cannot be defeated. 

    “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames” 

    • #13
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Wouldn’t it be somethin’ if the temporary elevator used during renovation threw a spark in the attic just as the last workman stepped off at the bottom at the end of his shift? Just a small fire up there where no one was around to do anything about it? Wow, that’s almost like destiny!

    I appreciate you giving the context, Claire, which has so rarely been given by the MSM (including FOX, it seems). But, several of your assertions seem self-contradictory, or at least not obviously true. Notre Dame is the highest value terrorist target, and therefore, it couldn’t possibly have been terrorism?

    The attic is hard to get to (which, btw, no one even knows if that’s where it started, just that’s where spectators saw it come through the roof). But are there other means for getting fire high up into the cathedral? Like a molotov cocktail sent up in a temporary elevator? Drones? Flares (this is the one that freaks out people like me who live in wildfire terrain)?

    Workmen who specialize in restoring medieval cathedrals would never set them on fire? Like firefighters are never pyromaniacs?

    At the very least, the carelessness that would expose such a treasure to accidental fires is almost incomprehensible with modern technology. Surely fire prevention and suppression is a high priority in such renovation projects? Surely?? But, I don’t think it’s realistic to rule out malice.

    Easter Sunday is actually the perfect day to grapple with this. Look to the crucified Christ for what human malice can do. Then look to the empty tomb for the Grace which is insurmountable by human sin and destructiveness — even if it’s the intentional burning of Notre Dame.

    Happy Easter.

    • #14
  15. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    To some extent, this can be blamed on the different dynamics of broadcast media versus print. In print, addressing those attacks and establishing context to understand why people may be concerned that the fire at Notre Dame could have been a terrorist attack can be reviewed more calmly and rationally by the reader – as you have done here.

    TV is a hot medium. Print is cold. I think it was Marshall McLuhan who once said, “Some like it hot.”

    But, nobody’s perfect.

    • #15
  16. She Member
    She
    @She

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    To some extent, this can be blamed on the different dynamics of broadcast media versus print. In print, addressing those attacks and establishing context to understand why people may be concerned that the fire at Notre Dame could have been a terrorist attack can be reviewed more calmly and rationally by the reader – as you have done here.

    That’s very true.  That aura of calmness and rationality though, sometimes mitigates against a person taking the time to “calmly and rationally” wade through an exposition such as Claire’s extremely well-written and useful one here.*  Because, many times, I don’t think calmness and rationality is what an awful lot of people seek.  They want to shout someone down.  They want to shut someone up.  They want to feel the power that goes along with making themselves the talk of the Internet for fifteen minutes, whether the publicity they garner is positive or negative.  It doesn’t seem to matter which one it is.  That’s why people stick their heads inside microwave ovens filled with cement (I guess).

    I’d almost love to spend a week in which the entire Internet is down, and all we have is radios again.  Some TV would probably be OK too, because without the Internet, and one ignorant, live-streaming, know-nothing after another flapping his gums, side by side with virtue-signalling, politically-correct hosts, incompetently multitasking among their microphone, the earwig which is steering them in a particular direction, and their computer, to “get the story first,” we might actually get some news.

    A girl can dream, right.

    *General illiteracy, when it comes to properly interpreting what’s before one’s very eyes, doesn’t help either.

    • #16
  17. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Thank you, Claire.  This is the first rational, informed survey of what is, or should be publicly known by somebody who has actual knowledge of the situation.

    A major problem here as elsewhere, is created by the fact that hardly anybody – at least anybody with an ounce of brains – automatically trusts what the government tells them anymore.  Macron did nobody any favors by announcing, long before anything definitive could be known about the cause, that it wasn’t terrorism.  The first thought that occurred to me, when I first heard about the fire was, indeed, terrorism.  But I knew that any actual evidence of the cause would be at least days off.  So when Macron shot of his mouth, my reaction was much the same as when Her Annointedness announced that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russians: “So… the Democrats are colluding with Russians.  How interesting.”  And it turns out I was right.  

    This loss of trust in what a government tells us has other, much more serious potential.  It is certainly a major contributor to the Anti – Vaxx movement, which is already having deadly consequences.  

    • #17
  18. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

    • #18
  19. Blue Yeti Admin
    Blue Yeti
    @BlueYeti

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

     

    • #19
  20. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

    Really? You saw the spark that touched off the fire?

    Sorry, Claire. You don’t know the cause of this fire more than anyone else. I understand wanting it to be unintentional, but it’s  possible that’s wishful thinking. We just don’t know.

    • #20
  21. Blue Yeti Admin
    Blue Yeti
    @BlueYeti

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

    Really? You saw the spark that touched off the fire?

    Sorry, Claire. You don’t know the cause of this fire more than anyone else. I understand wanting it to be unintentional, but it’s possible that’s wishful thinking. We just don’t know.

    You are willfully ignoring the reports of the investigators. 

    • #21
  22. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    The attic is hard to get to (which, btw, no one even knows if that’s where it started, just that’s where spectators saw it come through the roof). But are there other means for getting fire high up into the cathedral? Like a molotov cocktail sent up in a temporary elevator? Drones? Flares (this is the one that freaks out people like me who live in wildfire terrain)?

    This is one that has been circulating online.  Not a cross section of Notre Dame, but structurally very very similar.

    1. We can KNOW, really know, that the fire started in the attic because that’s where the damage actually is – the attic is the wooden support structure above the stone vaulting.  There’s little fire damage under the vaulting except directly beneath the spire where the crashing spire also punched through the vaulting (structurally speaking – everything I’ve read about that spire suggests its addition in the 19th century was a structural mistake).  Had the fire started anywhere else, you would see it, and the burn pattern would have been radically different.
    2. No flare or incendiary device lobbed onto the roof would have caused this sort of fire.  It’s just not possible.  The roof was of thick lead sheeting over the wooden frame, way too thick for a small incendiary device to work to melt through the sheeting.  The fire started inside.
    3. The fire clearly burned from below for some time before melting the lead above it, and then the roof itself weakened enough to start to collapse, letting in a lot more oxygen which then allowed the fire to spread further.
    • #22
  23. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Blue Yeti (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

    Really? You saw the spark that touched off the fire?

    Sorry, Claire. You don’t know the cause of this fire more than anyone else. I understand wanting it to be unintentional, but it’s possible that’s wishful thinking. We just don’t know.

    You are willfully ignoring the reports of the investigators.

    No, I’m not. I’m saying Claire was a witness to what happened from outside the building. I absolutely believe it’s possible it happened the way the world’s fastest arson investigators say it did. I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy to hide what really happened.

    I am saying it seems imprudent and, frankly, naive to believe it couldn’t possibly have been maliciously ignited. I also suspect the destruction of the point of ignition is so complete, unless the charred bones of an arsonist are found on the floor of the cathedral, we’ll never know precisely what happened. 

    • #23
  24. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    I am saying it seems imprudent and, frankly, naive to believe it couldn’t possibly have been maliciously ignited. I also suspect the destruction of the point of ignition is so complete, unless the charred bones of an arsonist are found on the floor of the cathedral, we’ll never know precisely what happened. 

    She didn’t say it couldn’t possibly have been maliciously ignited.  She did point out all sorts of reasons to believe that it wasn’t, both externally and internally.  But she also reported that the fire investigators haven’t finished their work, and that the exact cause may never be known due to the complete destruction of the point of origin.  

    I’ve worked with fire investigators.  What they can determine from what remains after a fire is incredible.  

    • #24
  25. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Blue Yeti (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    They produced no eyewitness,

    I’m an eyewitness.

    Really? You saw the spark that touched off the fire?

    Sorry, Claire. You don’t know the cause of this fire more than anyone else. I understand wanting it to be unintentional, but it’s possible that’s wishful thinking. We just don’t know.

    You are willfully ignoring the reports of the investigators.

    No, I’m not. I’m saying Claire was a witness to what happened from outside the building. I absolutely believe it’s possible it happened the way the world’s fastest arson investigators say it did. I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy to hide what really happened.

    I am saying it seems imprudent and, frankly, naive to believe it couldn’t possibly have been maliciously ignited. I also suspect the destruction of the point of ignition is so complete, unless the charred bones of an arsonist are found on the floor of the cathedral, we’ll never know precisely what happened.

    They wouldn’t be able to point to a precise source (that junction box, those circuits) but what they ought to be able to do is to quickly review their security procedures. After the nonsense in 2016, security would have been reviewed, updated as needed, and reviewed again periodically. The French take a lot of abuse as to their defense capabilities, but when it comes to the point defense of a fixed target, they will be very competent, especially when it comes to high value targets. There are probably video systems monitoring specific access points (if I can think of that, so can they) and it wouldn’t take days to run through the tapes and verify that no one was running around loose up there.

    The speed with which they said it was an accident wasn’t the best path forward. There have been too many other incidents where subsequent events have bitten the “no terrorism involved” crowd in the butt. Take your time and get it right.

    • #25
  26. Ida Claire Member
    Ida Claire
    @IdaClaire

    No Claire, you were a witness to the burning of Notre Dame, not to origins of the fire.  I was a volunteer firefighter for 6 years, I’ve seen investigators work – and not a single one would hazard a guess prior to, you know, actually investigating. That they did (most likely under political pressure) undermines their credibility.  

    That coupled with all the other recent church attacks makes being suspicious very reasonable.  

    • #26
  27. Jason Obermeyer Member
    Jason Obermeyer
    @JasonObermeyer

    Percival (View Comment):
    The speed with which they said it was an accident wasn’t the best path forward. There have been too many other incidents where subsequent events have bitten the “no terrorism involved” crowd in the butt. Take your time and get it right.

    This is the basic problem and what allows these things to get started. It’s not at all unreasonable to have suspicions when the initial reporting matches what people suppose is Emmanuel Macron’s preferred conclusion, but @skipsul demonstrated that the fire had to have originated at a particular point and Claire suggested a number of reasons why it is difficult for someone to have accessed that point without ruling out that sometimes the difficult and implausible actually occurs.  This is a reasonable take on the situation. 

    My only quibble with the initial post would be the seemingly unconservative faith in officialdom. 

    • #27
  28. Jason Obermeyer Member
    Jason Obermeyer
    @JasonObermeyer

    Ida Claire (View Comment):
    No Claire, you were a witness to the burning of Notre Dame, not to origins of the fire.

    This is what I assumed the person who made the statement meant. Claire’s testimony would seemingly only be necessary if someone denied that the fire actually happened.  Such a claim would be somewhere between the “Sandy Hook was a false flag” claim and CNN’s coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370 and no one appears to be making it (yet!).  That said, the above dialog allowed Claire and @blueyeti to have their “You Go Girl/Talk to the Hand” moment, and there is real value in that. 

    • #28
  29. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    It does put me at ease that it wasn’t terrorism or arson.  I’m now convinced as best one can be when one is fed the facts.  However, everything you lay out as to the context of the situation makes it quite appropriate for anyone to jump to the terrorism or vandalism theory.  What’s stunning to me is how quickly they try to shut down people from speaking it.  Even FOX News, which by the way I now can make a legitimate claim is no longer conservative.  Thank you Claire.  I appreciate your on the ground report.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Jason Obermeyer (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):
    The speed with which they said it was an accident wasn’t the best path forward. There have been too many other incidents where subsequent events have bitten the “no terrorism involved” crowd in the butt. Take your time and get it right.

    This is the basic problem and what allows these things to get started. It’s not at all unreasonable to have suspicions when the initial reporting matches what people suppose is Emmanuel Macron’s preferred conclusion, but @skipsul demonstrated that the fire had to have originated at a particular point and Claire suggested a number of reasons why it is difficult for someone to have accessed that point without ruling out that sometimes the difficult and implausible actually occurs. This is a reasonable take on the situation.

    My only quibble with the initial post would be the seemingly unconservative faith in officialdom.

    When first I thought about it, I did so entirely from determining what the source of ignition had been. I even started composing a post about how ridiculous it was to state that it was a short circuit or some other electrical fault before the fire was extinguished. It wasn’t until I considered what the French government might know that I didn’t that I paused. Their surveillance of the upper areas was probably good to excellent. I had to admit that they might know there was nobody up there who wasn’t supposed to be.

    • #30
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