Notre Dame fire: ‘Part of us burned,’ says Macron

Why firefighters found it difficult to control the flames at Notre Dame that destroyed the iconic spire which Macron has vowed to rebuild

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Paris: A violent fire brought down on Monday night the roof of the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral. Its spire collapsed. Paris firefighters are still struggling to bring it under control.

A violent fire broke out shortly after 18:30 PM on Monday. The iconic spire of the building, eight centuries old, has collapsed, as has the central bell tower. The frame turned to ashes despite the efforts of some 400 firefighters who were mobilised. “It’s a very complex fire,” said Laurent Vibert, former commander of the Paris Fire Brigade rescue operations.

Notre Dame fire ‘devastating’

“We can see the roof on fire that probably took the level of scaffolding,” said Matthew Belliard although the origin of the fire has not yet been clearly established.

“The fire is abnormal and devastating. It is intense and it spread very quickly,” says the former spokesman of the Paris Fire Department. “You have to go around the fire, be careful of the wind too,” a forefighter warned the reporters who had rushed to the spot. The collapse of the spire exposed the structure to strong winds which, in turn, enraged the flames even more.

The intervention by firefighters ia proving due to the height of the monument, which rises 69 m above the ground and 93 m further up to the spire. It’s difficult to fix elevators, large scales, nacelles, etc by hydraulic means to be able to contain the fire, explained Laurent Vibert, adding that the scales are only 30 m long while the extended lift arms reach 45 m at the most.

Some of the 18 fire hoses cannot be stretched to the interiors where the fire is in its fiercest form, said General Jean-Claude Gallet, commander of the Brigade of firefighters of Paris, present on the spot. “We dontd know how to stop the spread of fire to the north belfry. If it collapses, you can’t imagine the extent of damage,” he commented at 21:45 in the night when our reporter reached the spot.

Water drop impossible

US President Donald Trump quickly recommended an aerial intervention to overcome the fire. But this could prove a bad idea.

These planes are “technically unsuitable for extinguishing this type of fire,” explained the Civil Security on Twitter. “Helicopter or aeroplane, the weight of the water and the intensity of the dropping at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and cause collateral damage on the buildings in the neighbourhoods”, explained officials at the home ministry.

Although helicopters have been made available to firefighters, air assets are usually reserved for high points or very isolated mountain chalets, for example. Firefighters know exactly what they are doing here. How any possible disaster in monuments like Notre-Dame de Paris is to be handled is part of a particular plan of intervention. This is a listed establishment, among the protected heritage buildings and museums of France, says Vibert.

Interiors saved

Ravaged by the flames, the spire of the cathedral collapsed shortly before 8 PM. “Everything is burning. Of the frame, which dates back to the nineteenth century on one side and the thirteenth on the other, there will be nothing left,” said the spokesman of Notre Dame.

After it was certain they couldn’t save the north belfry, the fire chief announced that the structure of the cathedral was saved. “We can consider that the structure of Notre-Dame is saved and preserved in its entirety,” said General Jean-Claude Gallet.

The crown of thorns and the tunic of St Louis, two objects extremely important for Catholics, were “saved” from the fire, said Bishop Patrick Chauvet, rector of the cathedral.

Macron ‘sad to see part of us burn’

In the aftermath of the incident, President Emmanuel Macron postponed his post-grand debate speech and promised to rebuild Notre Dame.

Macron, who was to speak on Monday night and make announcements in response to the crisis of “yellow vests”, decided to postpone his speech to Tuesday. He visited the spot, with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, the Secretary of State to the Minister of the Interior, Laurent Nunez, and the president of the National Assembly, Richard Ferrand.

“Like all our compatriots, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn,” the head of state wrote on Twitter.