Notre Dame’s age, design fueled fire and foiled firefighters

AP NEWS | 4/15/2019 | Staff
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NEW YORK (AP) — Is there anything firefighters could have done to control the blaze that tore through Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral sooner?

Experts say the combination of a structure that’s more than 850 years old, built with heavy timber construction and soaring open spaces, and lacking sophisticated fire-protection systems led to the quick rise of flames Monday, which jeopardized the entire cathedral before firefighters brought the blaze under control.

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“Very often when you’re confronted with something like this, there’s not much you can do,” said Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College.

Firehoses looked overmatched as flames raged across the cathedral’s wooden roof and burned bright orange for hours. The fire toppled a 300-foot (91-meter) spire and launched baseball-sized embers into the air.

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While the cause remains under investigation, authorities said that the cathedral’s structure — including its landmark rectangular towers — has been saved.

Some of the factors that made Notre Dame a must-see for visitors to Paris — its age, sweeping size and French Gothic design featuring masonry walls and tree trunk-sized wooden beams — also made it a tinderbox and a difficult place to fight a fire, said U.S. Fire Administrator G. Keith Bryant.

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With a building like that, it’s nearly impossible for firefighters to attack a fire from within. Instead, they have to be more defensive “and try to control the fire from the exterior,” said Bryant, a former fire chief in Oklahoma and past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

“When a fire gets that well-involved it’s very difficult to put enough water on it to cool it to bring it under control,” Bryant said.

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And while there’s a lot of water right next door at the Seine River, getting it to the right place is the problem, he said: “There are just not enough...
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