On behalf of the EFSN and its members I would like to express our shock and sadness at the terrible damage fire has done to the Cathedrale of Notre Dame de Paris, one of the world’s most famous and culturally significant buildings.
That anything is left at all is down to the efforts of 400 firefighters, many of whom endured considerable risk. It is reported that one is seriously injured. Firefighters attended from the Louvre, which has its own fire brigade, and helped to remove the priceless treasures.
As with State-owned treasures in other countries, Notre Dame is not insured, the French government has confirmed. Fortunately in this case the sense of loss is so deeply felt that private citizens are pledging huge sums for the restoration. Fires in lesser-known buildings do not generate this response.
While it may take some time before the cause of the fire is formally established, informed speculation suggests it may have been due to hot work on the lead roof, which was under renovation. Roof fires are often caused by hot work and a French insurer has informed us that 30% of fires in businesses are caused by hot work. Many people see the stone walls and vault of a cathedral and and assume there is no risk of fire. The vault is not weatherproof so it is protected by another material, such as lead or copper, supported by a wood structure. The York Minster fire in 1984 also began in the roof, although it is believed to have been caused by lightning. Chartres Cathedral has been damaged or destroyed by fire five times, most recently losing its roof in 1836 when it had a similar structure to that at Notre Dame.
It is reported that a new fire detection system was fitted at Notre Dame in 2013 and that it worked. Paris has a dense network of fire stations to ensure rapid attendance times. Despite that the fire developed so quickly that firefighters were unable to save the roof and almost lost the entire building. The EFSN believes that a fire suppression system in the combustible roof void would prevent fire spread and buy time for firefighters to reach the fire to complete extinguishment. Some have commented that it would not be possible to fit a fire suppression system in such a congested space – the roof void was known as the ‘forest’. Yet fire suppression systems are often installed in highly congested spaces, such as ship machinery spaces and submarines. They have also been fitted in wooden churches in Nordic countries, as well as many museums, palaces and other historic buildings, including cathedrals. Since 2006 even the Eiffel Tower is protected with a sprinkler system. While Notre Dame would require a system tailored to the risk, we believe that this would be possible and should be considered as part of the fire protection measures when Notre Dame is rebuilt.