Imagine a building you’re familiar with—perhaps your city’s town hall, a nearby apartment complex, or even your own home—bursting unexpectedly into flames. Unimaginable, eh? Essentially, that feeling of horror and disbelief permeates any consideration of the disaster at Notre-Dame de Paris, the 850-year-old cathedral located on the beautiful Ȋle de la Cité. In this article, we set the fire scene. In four subsequent articles, we explore the cathedral’s history, what was destroyed and what was saved, environmental damage, and restoration efforts.
Fighting the fire
On April 15, 2019, just before 6:20 pm, fire broke out in Notre-Dame’s attic. (Investigations later revealed that the cause was most likely an electrical short.
By the time it was extinguished—some 15 hours later—the spire had collapsed, most of the roof was gone, and the upper walls were severely damaged. The blaze consumed dry timbers in the spire and roof, melted the lead sheathing the timbers of the roof, and destroyed scaffolding that was being used in renovating the spire. Miraculously, the vaulted stone ceiling protected the interior of the building from the collapsing roof.
The Paris Fire Brigade drilled regularly at Notre-Dame, and fire wardens checked the status of the attic several times a day.
400 firefighters fought the blaze.
100 municipal workers and police formed a human chain to move irreplaceable artworks to safety.
The fire was largely fought inside the structure, increasing danger to firefighters but reducing potential damage.
The roof contained 400 tons of lead, which either melted or vaporized, leaving 200 tons unaccounted for and raising environmental concerns.
The significance of Notre-Dame
Considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in existence, Notre-Dame de Paris is an icon recognized globally. It’s visited by approximately 12 million people annually—making it the most-visited monument in Paris.
The French government owns Notre-Dame, and on the night of the fire President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral and launched an international fundraising campaign.
Part of "The devastating Notre Dame Cathedral fire, in 19 photos" by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Hilliard Architects is a small technical architecture firm specializing in laboratory and healthcare renovations and access compliance (ADA).