A Paris firefighter in a ladder basket working to extinguish at Notre Dame. Photo screen shot from Paris Fire Brigade Video.
16 Apr 2019

The Paris Fire Brigade´s own videos: Water shortages, traffic and an ignored fire alarm delayed Notre Dame operations


The Paris fire  services have now released images from the chaotic operation trying to save the 800 year old cathedral. Lack of water and heavy traffic were contributing factors that made the operations more difficult. 

The extensive fire erupted just before 19 o'clock on Monday night. Ten hours later, the fire was extinguished and left the whole city in grief.

The first alarm came at 18.20, but it was not until 18.33 that the first flames were seen, the prosecutor Rémy Heitz announced at a press conference.

A total of 400 firefighters fought against the fire for more than ten hours.


Rapid fire development - fire spread though scaffolding

According to several international media, firefighters working during the operation said that the fire spread was extremely rapid. The roof was made from wood, and many centuries old. The scaffolding surrounding the building, set up to renovate the church fasades, allegedly helped spread  the fire even faster.


Lack of water and heavy traffic delayed the operations

The extinguishing work was initially made difficult by both a lack of water and several emergency vehicles getting stuck in heavy Paris traffic.

The two iconic towers of the front survived the fire by, as well as several of the cathedral's priceless objects, such as an alleged piece of Christ's crown of thorns and a garment worn by King Louis IX. This was when several firefighters who were on the scene  early rushed into the cathedral.

In total, the cathedral contained 2 300 statues and sculptures and in a tweet the Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo honoured everyone who participated in the rescue effort which she called "formidable".


Early warnings were ignored - faster response could have save the cathedral

The first warning signals were dismissed as false alarms. 23 minutes later the alarm sounded again, but by then it was too late to save Notre-Dame from the flames.

Hundreds of firefighters began fighting the fire around 18.45 after being called out to the alarm only  minutes earlier. However, it wasn't the first fire alarm from Notre-Dame that evening

The prosecutor Rémy Heitz, who has 50 investigators at his disposal, gave an update on the situation in the investigation on Tuesday.

The prosecutor then said that a first alarm had gone out 23 minutes earlier, at 18.20.

Heitz stated that the emergency services investigated the source of the alarm, but that no signs of fire were found.

The priest who led the mass when the first alarm sounded allegedly also thought it was a false alarm, but still  chose to evacuate the cathedral.

According to The Guardian, it was unclear whether the first warning signals came from a smoke alarm or a heat detector.

Next time the alarm sounded - 18.43 - there was no doubt there was a fire in the building.


"Long and complex investigation"
At that point open flames could be seen from the roof and a thick pillar of smoke rose from the cathedral on the island of Île de la Cité in the Seine River.

After four hours, the firefighters finally managed to get the fire under control.

Total devastation was very close at hand. The rescue operation was critical for some time, and diring less than an hour it was uncertain if the building could be saved at all,  according to French assistant interior minister Laurent Nuñez.

 "It was a matter of 15-30 critical minutes", said Nuñez according to the BBC.

"It will be a long and complex investigation", said prosecutor Rémy Heitz. 

Five construction companies allegedly have been involved in the renovation work and about 30 people allegedly have been interrogated.


Three first responders injured

One firefighter was slightly injured, as were two police officers.

It is currently unclear what caused the extensive fire, but according to a first assessment it  probably have started in the attic and then spread quickly via the roof because of the flammable wooden beams that originated from the 12th century.


Father Fournier of the Paris Fire Brigade saved many of the priceless artifacts in Notre Dame.


Paris Fire Brigade´s own Father Fournier hailed as a hero during the early stages of the fire

The Fire Brigade Chaplain has been hailed a hero after he went into the burning Notre Dame cathedral to rescue the Crown of Thorns, reports several international media.

Father Fournier has been thanked for his bravery after saving the crown, a priceless religious relic made to resemble the one worn by Jesus Christ before his crucifixion, and the so called Blessed Sacrament.

Some even called for the chaplain to be made a saint for his work saving the priceless artefacts on Monday.

Fournier was part of the rescue effort which saved dozens of historical relics and are now safely in storage at the City Hall.

Firefighters and police formed a human chain to save dozens of artefacts and other works of art.


Extensive renovation work

An extensive renovation of the cathedral was ongoing, and it is currently believed the fire started through some form of negligence or electrical problem in connection with the renovation work. 

Only days before the fire, sixteen copper statues portraying Jesus' apostles, had been taken down for restoration, and escaped the fire.

During Tuesday morning, the rescue service announced that it had managed to save a number of invaluable relics from within the church, as well as saving the cathedral's basic structure.

However, there is still an imminent risk of the building collapsing.

French President Emmanuel Macron early promised the Parisians that the cathedral will be rebuilt. The rebuilding work is expected to last several years and cost millions of Euros.