(Notre Dame fire) Age, size, wooden beams made cathedral a tinderbox

World | 16 Apr 2019 11:54 am

Is there anything firefighters could have done to control the blaze that tore through the historic Notre Dame Cathedral sooner in Paris?

Experts say the combination of a structure that is 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 yesterday, which jeopardized the entire cathedral before firefighters brought the blaze under control.

“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  spire and launched baseball-sized embers into the air.

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.

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.

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 resources in terms of fire apparatus, hoses to get that much water on a fire that’s that large.”

Because of narrower streets, which make it difficult to maneuver large ladder fire trucks, European fire departments don’t tend to have as large of ladders as they do in the United States, Bryant said.

And what about President Donald Trump’s armchair-firefighter suggestion that tanker jets be used to dump water from above on Notre Dame?

French authorities tweeted that doing so would’ve done more harm than good. The crush of water on the fire-ravaged landmark could’ve caused the entire structure to collapse, according to the tweet.-AP

 

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