Two conflagrations that began in the evening of April 15 at the Notre Dame Cathedral burned for hours, devastating much of its interior and completely destroying its elaborate wooden roof. However, the cathedral’s medieval masonry remained intact, shielding much of the lower interior from further damage.
Responders, including firefighters and clergymen, risked life and limb to retrieve priceless artifacts from the burning edifice as shocked onlookers stood in witness of the fire tearing through one of European civilization’s most cherished landmarks.
Photos from the disaster show the Paris cathedral ablaze from the burning of its roof, which had been made of wood from 13,000 oak trees, and the collapse of its 96-meter (315-foot) spire. It is speculated that the tragedy may have resulted from negligence by workers conducting renovations on the roof while using welding torches and other tools.
Petroleum products and other flammable material used in the 800-year-old construction and maintenance of Notre Dame created a thick brown smoke above its stone vault. Fortunately, the robust architecture prevented most of the burning timber from falling to the ground level, where large fires could have created an oven effect and destroyed the whole building.
Over 400 firefighters helped to put out the flames and rescue Catholic artifacts from the interior, working nonstop until the early hours of the next morning when the last fires were extinguished.
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Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, was hailed a hero for running into the Notre Dame and risking his life to remove the Crown of Thorns and Blessed Sacrament. The Crown of Thorns is believed to have been placed on Jesus’ head as he lay crucified. It was brought to Paris by French King Louis IX in 1239.
In 2015, Fournier, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was one of the first to tend to the dying and wounded in the Bataclan theater after 90 people were killed in a terrorist attack by the Islamic State (ISIS).
“Father Fournier is an absolute hero,” a member of the emergency services told NewsTalk, an Irish radio station. “He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, tweeting as the cathedral burned, wrote: “Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.” He later called upon the nation to rebuild the cathedral and said “it will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” according to reports.
Foreign leaders also expressed their shock and regret at the tragedy. In a tweet timestamped 10:39 a.m. U.S. Eastern time, President Trump expressed hopes that emergency responders would “act quickly” to control the conflagration, and later said it was “horrible to watch the fire.” He then added: “God bless the people of France.”
The same day, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a statement saying it was “heartbreaking to see a house of God in flames.”
Aside from the structure and various relics, all three of Notre Dame’s famed rose windows and its bell towers survived the blaze. French authorities said on April 16 that there was nothing to suggest the disaster was deliberate, but that thorough investigations were underway.
Terrorist action is not currently suspected as a cause, though an ISIS propaganda group expressed celebratory, anti-Christian reactions to news of the burning cathedral.
French fashion billionaires Francois-Henri Pinault of Kering and Bernard Arnault of LVMH have pledged over US$300 million for the restoration of Notre Dame. More funding has been offered by the city of Paris and other companies.