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Notre-Dame de Paris fire
From Quai de Montebello with the spire aflame
|Date||15 April 2019 (2019-04-15)|
|Time||18:20 CEST (16:20 UTC)|
|Property damage||Roof and spire destroyed; windows and vaulted ceilings damaged|
A structure fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on 15 April 2019, just before 18:20 CEST. 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 two pipe organs, and its three 13th-century rose windows, suffered little to no damage. Three emergency workers were injured.
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[update]. 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, 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.
At 18:20 the fire alarm sounded and guards evacuated the cathedral within minutes; one climbed to the space beneath the roof but found no fire. At 18:43 the alarm sounded again; at 18:49 two guards investigated again, this time finding flames. The alarm system was not designed to automatically notify the fire brigade, which was summoned only at 18:51 after the guards had returned. Firefighters arrived at the church within ten minutes after the call was issued.
Police quickly evacuated the Île de la Cité. White smoke rising from the roof turned black before flames appeared from the spire, then turned yellow. Within an hour of flames being seen, the roof and spire were fully engulfed and soon collapsed.
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 minimise damage to the cathedral and its contents. Water was supplied by boats pumping 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.
Firefighters eventually abandoned attempts to extinguish the roof to focus on saving the two towers, which were integral to the structural survival of the entire edifice. Twenty firefighters with their equipment climbed the towers' narrow spiral stairs, but were later driven back by heat.
Around 23:15, officials reported that the towers were out of danger and the fire had weakened; it was considered completely extinguished after about twelve hours. The Paris fire chief said the bell towers and other parts of the building would have collapsed if the fire had continued for another 30 minutes.
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.
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 Virgin of Paris statue of Mary and the baby Jesus.
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 the 16th of 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.[needs update] Several pews were destroyed and the sculpted arches[further explanation needed] 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 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.
French president Emmanuel Macron, postponing a speech planned for that evening, went to Notre Dame and gave a brief address there. Numerous world religious [a][better source needed] and government leaders[b] extended condolences.
On 16 April, the Paris prosecutor said there was no evidence of a deliberate act.
The fire has been compared to the similar 1992 Windsor Castle fire and the Uppark fire, among others, and has raised old questions about the safety of similar structures and the techniques used to restore them. Renovation works increase fire risk, and a police source reported they are looking into whether such work had caused this incident.
The renovations presented a fire risk from sparks, short circuits, and heat from welding (roof repairs involved cutting, and welding lead sheets resting on timber). Normally, no electrical installations were allowed in the roof space due to the extreme fire risk. The roof framing was of very dry timber, often powdery with age. After the fire the architect responsible for fire safety at the cathedral acknowledged that the rate at which fire might spread had been underestimated, and experts said it was well known that a fire in the roof would be almost impossible to control.
Of the firms working on the restoration, a Europe Echafaudage team was the only one working there on the day of the fire; the company said no soldering or welding was underway before the fire. The scaffolding was receiving electrical supply for temporary elevators and lighting. Le Bras Frères said it had followed procedure and that none of its personnel were on site when the fire broke out. Time-lapse images taken by a camera installed by them showed smoke first rising from the base of the spire.
On 25 April, the structure was considered safe enough for entry of investigators, who unofficially stated that they were considering theories involving malfunction of electric bell-ringing apparatus, and cigarette butts discovered on the renovation scaffolding.
On the night of the fire Macron said that the cathedral, which is owned by the state, would be rebuilt, and launched an international fundraising campaign. France's cathedrals have been owned by the state since 1905, and are not privately insured. The heritage conservation organisation Fondation du Patrimoine estimated the damage in the hundreds of millions of euros; but, according to President Robert Leblanc, losses from the fire are not expected to substantially impact the private insurance industry.
This cost does not include damage to any of the artwork or artefacts within the cathedral; art insurers said any pieces on loan from other museums would have been insured, but the works owned by the cathedral would not have been insurable. While Macron hoped the cathedral could be restored in time for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, architects expect the work could take from twenty to forty years, as any new structure would need to balance restoring the look of the original building, using wood and stone sourced from the same regions used in the original construction, with the structural reinforcement required for preventing a similar disaster in the future.
There is discussion of whether to reconstruct the cathedral in modified form. Rebuilding the roof with titanium sheets and steel trusses has been suggested; other options include rebuilding in the original lead and wood, rebuilding with modern materials not visible from the outside (like the reinforced concrete trusses at Reims Cathedral), or a combination of restored old elements and newly designed ones.
French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced an architectural design competition for a new spire "adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era." The spire replacement project has gathered a variety of designs and some controversy, particularly its legal exemption from environmental and heritage rules.
As of 22 April 2019[update], donations of over €1 billion have been pledged for the cathedral's reconstruction, at least €880 million of that in less than a day after Macron's appeal. Pledges €10M and over include:
- Arnault family & LVMH (€200M)
- Bettencourt family & L'Oréal (€200M)
- Pinault family & Artémis (€100M)
- Total SA (€100M)
- Paris city government (€50M)
- BNP Paribas SA (€20M)
- Decaux family & JCDecaux (€20M)
- AXA SA (€10M)
- Lily Safra (€10M)
- Bouygues family (€10M)
- De Lacharrière family & FIMALAC (€10M)
- Île-de-France (€10M)
- Société Générale (€10M)
- BPCE (€10M)
There have been many additional pledges for smaller, or undisclosed, amounts. A proposal by former minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon that corporate donations for Notre-Dame should get a 90% tax deduction (rather than the standard 60%) was retracted after public outcry. Some donors have said they will not seek tax deductions. Those who do not pay income tax (more than half of French taxpayers, including many working- and middle-class donors) are not eligible for tax deductions.
As of June 14 only €80 million had been collected. The minister in charge of national museums and monuments, Franck Riester, predicted that further donations would materialize as reconstruction work progressed, though it was reported that some who made pledges have renounced them because fundraising has been so successful.
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