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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
?? Fire breaks out at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. #AFPpic.twitter.com/pxEfP8YPG9— AFP Photo (@AFPphoto) April 15, 2019
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.
— Denis Lieppe (@denislieppe) April 15, 2019
The moment #NotreDame’s spire fell pic.twitter.com/XUcr6Iob0b— Patrick Galey (@patrickgaley) April 15, 2019
Absolutely devastating watching a piece of history falling down like this, one of the iconic buildings #NotreDamepic.twitter.com/iR3Umw3CSq— Brady Newstead (@bradynewstead) April 15, 2019
#NotreDame is burning... this is so sad. pic.twitter.com/bUCt40ztGT— Juan F. Usubillaga (@jfusubillaga) April 15, 2019
A fire has broken out at the famous Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and has spread rapidly across the building.#NotreDame#Parispic.twitter.com/EwT2VamgiX— ootahara (@ootahara_tweet) April 15, 2019
#NotreDame i'm crying ? pic.twitter.com/9Vb5ob8hrK— elisabeth the third (@elisablet) April 15, 2019
— Silver / Si-Eun (@Silver_Paik) April 15, 2019
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.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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.
A firestop is a passive fire protection system made up of various components and used to seal openings in buildings. pic.twitter.com/C5pOMPUa5r
— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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.
But the roof has basically been surrendered at this point. The peak, the lack of access and fire spread means almost certain loss.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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.
So this means you have to put firefighters inside... pic.twitter.com/YhyNZRYzBH— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Inside is a whole other problem. The primary option is large 2.5" fire hoses.
These are heavy, difficult to maneuver and against a fire like this, largely ineffective. pic.twitter.com/5tt3yDUpSo
— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
This option also means placing responders on the inside as the roof is falling down around them.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Another concern is accountability.
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?— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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?
I don't have these answers at a distance, but the responders on scene are asking them and forming plans.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
And lets pause to remember how fires actually burn.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Removing the fuel is a no go. Churches have no shortage of things to burn.
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.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
That leaves the oxygen.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Finally, I'd be worried about construction materials not usually found in churches (since it was under renovation).
Things that can explode, things that don't like being hit with water, Hazardous materials that can run off / go airborne, etc.— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Finally - especially this deep in to the fire - you have to be thinking about collapse of some or all of the structure.
The steeple and roof have to GO somewhere and its no guarantee that its straight down. pic.twitter.com/AWRFcQmYiT— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
The walls of #NotreDame are stout, but if weakened by fire and roofing timbers could come down.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
My gut (and experience) tells me that best case scenario her is something similar to Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava Fire in NYC.
At least for the main part of #NotreDame that has been affected by fire. pic.twitter.com/k0m7r2Aobp— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
Should be noted that while St. Sava is huge in its own right, it is dwarfed buy #NotreDame.
Depending on how hoses are placed, current wind conditions, responder access and water supply, damage could be significantly more, or less (- helpful I know...)— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
One thing that #NotreDame has in its favor - @PompiersParis are world class firefighters.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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.
Thanks for following along. pic.twitter.com/FLk35QdQcJ— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019
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.
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— Gregg Favre (@GreggFavre) April 15, 2019