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Notre-Dame fire | Blaze breaks out amid renovations at 12th century cathedral

Notre dame

Firefighters remain on site at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, France, after a catastrophic fire broke out yesterday evening. 

The blaze began around 6.30PM local time (5.30PM BST) and has claimed the icon’s spire and two-thirds of the cathedral’s roof. 

Fears for the bell towers were alliviated around 11PM, as fire fighters confirmed that had saved the iconic structures. 

The 12th century cathedral is currently undergoing a renovation project after cracks began to appear in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable. 

As firefighters tackled the blaze, the cathedral’s iconic spire collapsed, followed shortly afterwards by the collapse of a large section the roof. The spire comprised 250t of lead and was 96m tall. 

The cause of the fire is currently unclear, but officials have suggested that it could be linked to the renovation work.  A large amount of scaffold currently clads the iconic cathedral.

Scaffolding had been installed around the spire, with cranes in place to carry out renovations to the stonework. The removal of 3m tall copper statues from around the top of the cathedral took place only last week ahead of renovation work.  

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo described it as a “terrible fire” and urged people at the scene to respect the boundaries set up by fire crews in order to ensure that they remain safe. 

A 2014 audit by the French Ministry of Culture estimated total renovation costs at the Notre-Dame cathedral to be €150M (£130M). In its report, the ministry ruled that all works should be completed within five to 15 years. The renovation job to the spire was estimated to cost €6M (£5M). 

Speaking to the New York Times ahead of the resoration Philippe Villeneuve, the chief architect in charge of the cathedral’s renovation, explained that Notre-Dame is tricky to restore because in Gothic architecture “the elements all have dynamic structural roles.” For example, Villeneuve points out that the “pinnacles help anchor and stabilise the flying buttresses“, which take on the weight of the cathedral, and the gargoyles serve as much to decorate as they do to evacuate rainwater.

“If you remove one of those elements, there is a disequilibrium somewhere,” Villeneuve said. “The whole building isn’t going to crumble just because you lose three pinnacles, but it will unbalance it.”

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it has opened an inquiry into the incident.

Renovation challenge

The cathedral’s façade was restored in the 1990s, giving little indication of the actual fatigue and critical structural issues facing the iconic structure.

The following are just some of the urgent repairs which were needed:

  • The nearly 100m meter high spire and the 12 apostles that crown it have a large number of cracks and fissures that need an immediate restoration;
  • The aging stonework of all of the flying buttresses are causing problems for the stability of the whole building;
  • Many pinnacles and gargoyles are in disrepair or have fallen down and;
  • The lead framework of the stained glass windows is weakened

 

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