Notre Dame fire. Screenshot from CBC news video on YouTube.
16 Apr 2019

No water bombing allowed on Notre Dame because of risk of structural collapse


850 years of history engulfed by flames

When Notre Dame´s tall spiral fell on Monday, the Parisians screamed in terror. The cathedral is one of the world's most famous buildings, and more than 700 years of irreplaceable historical objects risked going up in smoke.

But the perhaps most obvious solution to attack such a large fire volume  - water bombing - was not allowed due to the risk of causing further structural damage to other buildings.

US President Donald Trump was quick to tweet how Notre-Dame Cathedral should be saved from the fire.

"Perhaps aircraft with water tanks can be used to extinguish it. Must act quickly!" he tweeted.

However, the reason why the building, partially from the 12th century, was not water-bombed was that it could have led to the structure collapsing, reports French newspaper Le Monde and refers to statements issued by the French emergency preparedness authorities.

"Aircraft or helicopters, the weight of the water and the impact on a low-altitude drop could actually weaken the Notre-Dame structure and cause damage to nearby buildings," wrote Sécurité Civile France on Twitter.

More than 400 firefighters have been involved in the extinguishing work, which has been hampered by the narrow streets surrounding the cathedral.

The Ringer will ring no more

The iconic gothic cathedral, where Victor Hugos Quasimodo, the disfigured and humpy "Ringer in Notre Dame", lived in the book, the films, the musical and the ballet, is known worldwide and by the UN classified as a world heritage site,

Right when Holy Week had just begun, the largest Catholic feast, the worst imaginable disaster struck the French capital. While the sun set over Paris, huge flames rose from the medieval cathedral over the River Seine.

Thick smoke and large clouds of swirling soot flakes darkened the sky, while 400 firefighters tried to fight the fire.

With the help of a 100-meter-long crane, firefighters have among other things rescued  16  copper statues which were three meters tall and weighed 250 kilos, that used to surround the cathedral. The statues represent the twelve apostles of Jesus and the four symbols of the evangelists: the angel, the lion, the bull, and the eagle.

The copper statues are now in safety, but inside the building, which itself has priceless value, were paintings, statues, stained-glass windows and other irreplaceable precious objects, such as Jesus' crown of thorns and the huge church bell named "Emmanuel" in the southern tower, which only rang on special days, such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.

This coming Easter Sunday it will be quiet.

The enormous bell weighs 13 metric tons - just the clap weighs half a ton.

Among the shocked and sad spectators along the Seine River stood Emmanuel Macron, the French President.

"Like all our countrymen, I'm sad tonight to see this part of us burn", he tweeted a few hours earlier when he was reached by the news of the fire.

It probably expresses what many French people know - Notre Dame is so closely associated with France's history.

Notre Dame was built in the Middle Ages and was completed in 1345.


Renovation work may have caused the fire

An extensive renovation, which extends over 20 years, was going on in the cathedral, and this is what investigators reportedly believe is the reason for the fire.- There is no cathedral in the world like Notre Dame. It's a terrible sight, said Donald Trump, US President on Monday night.


"Huge tragedy"

History professor Dick Harrison, however, chooses to see the fire in a larger and longer perspective:

"It is, of course, a huge tragedy, but, if you have to be crass: This happens to all cathedrals. In the same way as forest fires are part of every forest's natural ecosystem, cathedrals burn. They have done this throughout time, and eventually they are rebuilt again and the cathedral finds new power.

If you look from Notre Dames perspective, this is a new chapter in a very, very long and exciting story. Looking at it in a long-term perspective, this is not unfortunate, but an opportunity. If the cathedral does not burn,  you would  never have the chance to build an even better cathedral later on. This is what people will say in 500 years, which is the right perspective to see this in".

"That being said, it is, of course, from every perspective, a deeply tragic event", says Dick Harrison.

So far in the future, the French cannot see - and do not want to - this night of sorrow.

As the burning cathedral lit  up the night sky above Paris, Seine's beaches were filled with more and more people and the humming voices reciting the well-known prayer "Ave Maria" were heard from the streets.