1.1 The Notre-Dame fire
On 15 April 2019, tragedy struck. A fire broke out in the attic beneath the roof of Notre-Dame (Figure 4). It is not known what caused the fire – it may have been by a dropped cigarette or faulty electrical equipment but nothing has ever been confirmed. The alarm was first sounded at 18:20 but, by the time the source of the fire was discovered, it was too advanced to be easily extinguished.
The Île de la Cité on which Notre-Dame stands was quickly evacuated, while more than 400 firefighters tried to prevent the fire from spreading across the cathedral’s roof. Simultaneously, teams of other municipal workers formed human chains to evacuate various precious objects and relics from the cathedral.
Initially, much of the efforts to put out the blaze were carried out from inside Notre-Dame itself, a choice which allowed the fire to be fought more effectively. But it increased the danger for the personnel involved, given the weakening roof, smoke and molten lead dripping from the stained-glass windows.
At 19:50 the 91-metre-high central spire of the cathedral, which had been engulfed in flames, collapsed (Figure 5). This created a hole in the ceiling below, forcing the firefighters to retreat from the attic.
Shortly after the spire was lost, the fire also began to threaten the northern belfry (Figure 6). If the eight immense bells inside had fallen, they could have caused a chain reaction, destroying the base of the towers and eventually pulling down the whole cathedral.
Fortunately, the firefighters were able to focus their efforts and prevent the towers from collapsing. By 21:45, the fire had been reduced to a manageable size and the worst of the danger had passed. The last remnants of the fire were extinguished in the early hours of the morning.