The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Wednesday, 17 April 2019 01:00cat

The Notre Dame cathedral devastated by massive fire

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The spire of the landmark cathedral collapses-Source: The spire of the landmark cathedral collapses-Source:

Notre Dame Cathedral, a historic symbol of Paris for over 850 years, was highly damaged after its famous wooden spire was engulfed by flames and collapsed on Monday, April 15, 2019.

History and facts about the Notre Dame

Notre-Dame of Paris is a Catholic cathedral located on the Île de la Cité. Its construction begun in 1160 and it was completed about 100 years ago. It is considered one of the most impressive achievements of French Gothic architecture. During the years after the French Revolution (1789) the Cathedral suffered severe damage and most of its religious images were destroyed.

To this date, those who envisioned and built this masterpiece are unknown. Their names are probably lost in history. An art historian, Andrew Tallon, recently utilized the technology provided by laser scanners to unveil the mysteries of Notre Dame in order to understand how such a building was constructed. Until recently, the means used to measure medieval buildings were obsolete. Tallon was the first one to apply laser scanning technology inside a Gothic structure and was able to obtain a 3-dimensional model of the building. "If you've done your job properly the scan is accurate to within five millimeters," he stated. Tallon managed to scan more than 50 locations inside Notre Dame and collected over one billion points of data.

The laser scans revealed some surprising piece of information about Notre Dame. First of all, the western end of the Cathedral has a lot of building flaws. The interior columns and the aisles do not line up. Secondly, it seems that the builders did not remove the remains of existing structures on the ground but, instead, they built around them.

Tallon also found another amazing fact about the western facade of the Cathedral. After its construction, the Gallery of Kings tilted by 0.3 meters and began leaning to the north as it was built on unstable ground. Construction works were paused until the situation stabilized about a decade after. 

The devastating fire incident

On April 15 at about 6:20 p.m. local time, the first call to alert about a fire inside the cathedral was made, however, the fire was not visible at that time. 20 minutes later, a second call confirmed the fire. 400 firefighters were mobilized to rush at the scene but they were delayed due to congestion.

The fire rapidly spread across the roof of the building in an area of about 1000m2. Around 8:00 p.m. numerous people witnessed a devastating incident. The wooden spire of the cathedral burned and collapsed into the ground. By 11 p.m. French President, Emmanuel Macron, announced. "The worst has been avoided. The façade and the two main towers did not collapse." 

According to experts, the fire was very challenging to put out. The stone exterior of the cathedral made impossible for firefighters to reach the burning beams inside the building. Stone also trapped heat and smoke making their efforts even more difficult. Additionally, the height of the cathedral deteriorated the conditions by providing extra oxygen for the blaze.

The fire was finally extinguished on Tuesday, April 16, almost 9 hours after its initiation. According to the deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, emergency services attempted to rescue artworks from the cathedral even before the fire was put out. He also emphasized on the severe damage that the cathedral has suffered.  The cause of the blaze has not been clarified yet but it is thought to have begun during restoration works on the landmark by accident. The president of Île-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, stated that an investigation is going to be carried out. 

Two policemen and a firefighter were slightly injured during the incident but, fortunately, no fatalities were reported according to Paris Fire Brigade.

What will happen next?

The question now is what is going to happen after this historic disaster.

Firstly, experts will work to evaluate the cathedral's stability condition and to mitigate the risk of a fire reoccurring. President Macron addressed crowds outside Notre Dame and pledged to rebuild the cathedral by launching a fundraising campaign all over the world. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has called on all the members of the European Union to aid the attempt to rebuild the Cathedral.

According to recent updates, almost €500 million ($565 million) have been raised by donors. Total, a French oil and gas company, will contribute a €100 million ($113 million) fund for the reconstruction works and the family of Bernard Arnault, the French businessman who owns Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) fashion house and luxury goods has pledged to offer another €200 million ($226 million).


Click the video below to watch the collapse of Notre Dame Cathedral spire.


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Collapse of Notre Dame Cathedral spire

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