The fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on Monday left a scarred skyline that one of the French capital’s most iconic structures has graced for centuries. Gone is the cathedral’s soaring, delicate 300-foot spire, which collapsed in the flames. The cathedral’s wooden roof is now blackened and charred.
In the aftermath of the fire, a reckoning has begun into the cause of the blaze and how it could have spread so quickly through the historic building.
Here is a guide to some of our coverage of the devastating blaze.
Planners Underestimated the Risk
Benjamin Mouton, the architect who oversaw the design of the fire safety system at Notre-Dame, acknowledged that officials had misjudged how quickly a flame could spread through the cathedral. The system was based on the assumption that the ancient oak timbers in its attic would burn slowly.
Also, the fire alarms did not notify dispatchers right away. Instead, a guard at the cathedral first had to climb a steep set of stairs to the attic. Only after a blaze was discovered could the fire department be notified and deployed. That means there was a built-in delay of about 20 minutes, and then firefighters would still have to climb to the attic with hundreds of pounds of equipment to battle the flames.
How did the fire start?
The cathedral, which was under renovation, was encased in a web of scaffolding before the blaze broke out. It started in the attic, a remote space above the structure’s arches where dry wood beams formed a combustible lattice. The source of the fire was likely near the spire, but its cause has not been confirmed, though it is believed to have been accidental. It could have been caused by an electrical problem or human error.
A 3-D interactive model created by The Times explores the progression of the destruction through the structure, which had a smoke detection system but no other basic fire safety measures.
500 Firefighters Battled the Blaze
Notre-Dame is in the center of the city on a small island called Île de la Cité, which may have made it more difficult for firefighters to reach.
For nearly five hours, about 500 firefighters battled the blaze. By 11 p.m. in Paris, the cathedral had been “saved and preserved as a whole,” the fire chief, Jean-Claude Gallet, said. The cathedral’s two towers had been spared, but two-thirds of the roof was destroyed.
“The worst has been avoided even though the battle is not completely won,” President Emmanuel Macron said, vowing that the cathedral would be rebuilt.
But the spectacle of flames leaping from the cathedral left the country stunned, as pictures of the fire and its aftermath reflect. The landmark of medieval Gothic architecture built in the 12th and 13th centuries is visited by about 13 million people a year.
The Soul of France
For many, the cathedral is the heart of Paris. France is a fundamentally Roman Catholic country, and Notre-Dame is also a place that combines the secular, the sacred and the profane.
The structure is among the places in Western Europe most visited by tourists, and is “embedded into popular culture,” said François Heisbourg, a French analyst. It features in Victor Hugo’s work, of course, but also in films and the animated musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Mr. Macron, who has faced an uprising against his pro-business government, asked French citizens to come together and move beyond the divisions that have wrenched the country during months of violent street protests.
He called for national attention to be focused on the project of rebuilding the cathedral, vowing to restore it within five years. The government has said it would organize an international architecture competition to design a new spire.
Donations poured in from around the world, including from some of France’s wealthiest families. In the days after the fire, individuals, companies and institutions had donated or pledged 845 million euros, about $950 million, to rebuild the damaged cathedral. But the spectacle of the country’s wealthiest families trying to one-up one another quickly intensified resentment that had flared during the Yellow Vest protests over economic inequality.
Priceless treasures were saved
The relics and artwork that firefighters had scrambled to save from the fire were transferred first to Paris City Hall and then to the Louvre museum for safekeeping. Firefighters also said artwork that remained in the cathedral appeared surprisingly well preserved.
Among the central figures in the effort was the Fire Department’s chaplain, Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier. He guided his colleagues through the many chapels and alleys of the burning cathedral and told them what to save first. Among the objects they saved were the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus, the tunic of Saint Louis and a piece of wood and a nail believed to have been part of the cross used in the crucifixion.