The historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France caught fire today, threatening one of the world's most famous and beloved cathedrals.
Notre Dame On Fire
A massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral tore through the historic site this afternoon, forcing evacuations of thousands of tourists and visitors and threatening one of the world's most prominent cathedrals.
The 900-year-old structure has been undergoing renovations, so the roof of the cathedral is covered with scaffolding. So far, there is no reporting on what caused the fire to break out or whether the fire was related to the restoration work.
Located on an island in the middle of the Siene River, Notre Dame recieves nearly 50,000 visitors a day and is one of France's most cherished historical sites.
#NotreDame#France#Paris— Silver / Si-Eun (@Silver_Paik) April 15, 2019
You're now wearing black. It's going to go away any minute,
but don't worry.
We'll get you back.
It's sad to let you go, but we'll, we'll be able to see you again.
Thanks for 800 years. pic.twitter.com/vecPI1ZpKw
Why This Fire is so Hard to Stop
Firefighter Gregg Favre on Twitter posted a thread after some of his friends and followers sent him DMs asking why the fire in Notre Dame is spreading so quickly and gave a great explanation of why Notre Dame is particularly emperiled by this fire, as is the surrounding area.
After my last tweet, I got a couple DMs asking firefighting related questions about the #NotreDameFire.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
I -like most of you- are watching from a world away. But if you’re interested in some profession specific things I’d note/be concerned of, you can follow this thread. pic.twitter.com/golMnbYsDK
The first issue is how old churches are built - heavy timber construction with large open spaces and very few (if any in a church like #NotreDame) fire stops.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
A firestop is a passive fire protection system made up of various components and used to seal openings in buildings. pic.twitter.com/C5pOMPUa5r
If the fire started high on the structure, there is a chance that Paris Fire can save the walls and unimpinged areas of the Cathedral.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
But the roof has basically been surrendered at this point. The peak, the lack of access and fire spread means almost certain loss.
Even if arial waterways (think hook and ladders with prepiped hoses) could reach the roofline, it is difficult to see how they would get an angle that would get water on the fire - its just too high.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
So this means you have to put firefighters inside... pic.twitter.com/YhyNZRYzBH
Inside is a whole other problem. The primary option is large 2.5" fire hoses.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
These are heavy, difficult to maneuver and against a fire like this, largely ineffective. pic.twitter.com/5tt3yDUpSo
This option also means placing responders on the inside as the roof is falling down around them.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
And we aren't talking shingles.
This is heavy timber construction. Often 12"x12" in old churches, perhaps bigger in a #Cathedral this old. pic.twitter.com/RwO3N1Qrjw
Another concern is accountability.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Life safety is always the first priority, even in historic landmarks.#NotreDame was undergoing a renovation. This means that there were more people there than normal.
Is the #Cathedral staff all out?
The construction workers?
If unaccounted for, where were they and how many? What does a rescue task force look like? How many responders do you place in additional harms way for unconfirmed reports?— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
I don't have these answers at a distance, but the responders on scene are asking them and forming plans.
And lets pause to remember how fires actually burn.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
You need oxygen, fuel, heat and a chemical chain reaction.
If you take any one of these away (cool material, remove fuel or oxygen, or interrupt the CCR) the fire will go out. pic.twitter.com/fgakKat1Mp
Removing the fuel is a no go. Churches have no shortage of things to burn.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
The heat that a fire this size is putting off is tremendous. Little options for interrupting that.
The chemical chain reaction is off to the races. That horse left the stable in the first five minutes.
That leaves the oxygen.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Unfortunately, even if the roof had not burnt off, churches are nearly impossible to control ventilation in.
Their design is to be open and airy. Great for Sunday worship, terrible for managing fire spread. pic.twitter.com/08KbCViTTX
Finally, I'd be worried about construction materials not usually found in churches (since it was under renovation).— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Things that can explode, things that don't like being hit with water, Hazardous materials that can run off / go airborne, etc.
Finally - especially this deep in to the fire - you have to be thinking about collapse of some or all of the structure.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
The steeple and roof have to GO somewhere and its no guarantee that its straight down. pic.twitter.com/AWRFcQmYiT
The walls of #NotreDame are stout, but if weakened by fire and roofing timbers could come down.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Are the streets in the collapse zone cleared? Of both onlookers and responder/trucks? Any other buildings threatened?
If a wall of fire comes down what the plan to fight THAT fire? pic.twitter.com/1kgepGctXW
My gut (and experience) tells me that best case scenario her is something similar to Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava Fire in NYC.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
At least for the main part of #NotreDame that has been affected by fire. pic.twitter.com/k0m7r2Aobp
Should be noted that while St. Sava is huge in its own right, it is dwarfed buy #NotreDame.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Depending on how hoses are placed, current wind conditions, responder access and water supply, damage could be significantly more, or less (- helpful I know...)
One thing that #NotreDame has in its favor - @PompiersParis are world class firefighters.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
I saw their work when I served on a board for the @IAFC & they have as strong, dedicated and skilled responders as you'd find anywhere in the world.
And my thoughts are w/ them all today. pic.twitter.com/N4rXdU4tTp
Finally, as a firefighter, as a Catholic and as a human this fire is heartbreaking.#NotreDame is a beacon of both faith and the human spirit. I wish all on scene a safe evening and comfort in knowing their best effort was applied.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Thanks for following along. pic.twitter.com/FLk35QdQcJ
The many reasons for why this fire is so hard to fight are detailed in the many replies to Favre's thread and go a long way toward explaining why firefighters can't just dump water on the fire from helicopters to put it out, as US President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter.
Considering the amount of attention Favre's thread has generated, he took the time to remind everyone that work like this happens every day in much less dramatic, but no less dangerous, ways. As terrible as it is to see a historic cultural site destroyed in real time, we should always remember that there are human beings on the ground doing the hard and dangerous work of trying to save what they can at increadible risk to themselves.
This blew up a bit. I am glad so many of you found this informative.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
I don’t have a SoundCloud, but I do have friends who are stepping to the line every day to do dangerous work.
If you chose to support @BackStoppers, we would be grateful.https://t.co/PLT9JUNKrb