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Everything that had to go wrong for Notre-Dame Cathedral to burn down so fast

Nicole Einbinder , Business Insider US
 Apr 16, 2019, 05:34 AM
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 14: Fire rages through the i
Fire rages through the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. A fire broke out on Monday afternoon and quickly spread across the building, collapsing the spire. The cause is unknown, but officials say it was possibly linked to ongoing renovation work. (Photo by Philippe Wang/Getty Images)
  • France's Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire on Monday in a deadly inferno.
  • While it remains unclear how exactly the building caught fire, various components of the building's structure - like its wooden roof and flammable limestone - could have contributed to the flames.
  • Before Monday's deadly blaze, the cathedral had been undergoing significant renovations, to help restore the 12th century building.
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France's renowned Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire on Monday in a deadly inferno that has shocked the world and left people on the ground scrambling to salvage the artwork stored inside.

It remains unclear how exactly the building caught fire, according to Paris Police, but Notre-Dame spokesperson Andre Finot said the entire wooden interior of the 12th century cathedral will likely be destroyed by the flames.

While Notre-Dame stood tall as one of Paris's most iconic structures - famous around the world for its Gothic architecture, fierce-looking gargoyles, and colorful stained glass windows - it also featured a combination of design errors that proved fatal, creating the perfect storm for the flames to get out of hand so quickly.

For instance, the building is supported by a massive framework of wooden beams, which holds up its medieval stone and intricately-carved gothic design exterior. According to Notre-Dame de Paris, the church framing is more than 100 meters long and the beams that are burning have been standing there since the 13th century. The roof is also made from wood.

The cathedral was built primarily of limestone, which is flammable, and broken gargoyles and balustrades (the row of small columns topped by a rail) had been replaced over the years by plastic pipes and wooden planks, according to The New York Times. Pinnacles were being held up by nothing more than straps, and flying buttresses had succumbed to pollution and erosion.

Before Monday's deadly blaze, the cathedral had been undergoing significant renovations, to help restore the 12th century building. But, that could have escalated the problem: firefighters told Huffington Post France that the fire may have been linked to those renovations. Open flames on torches, sparks from welders, and flammable material on scaffolding could have been another contributing factor, Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College, told The New York Times.

"There's a history of churches and synagogues and other houses of worship falling victim to construction fires," Corbett said.

On Monday afternoon, tourists and locals watched as a cloud of smoke overtook the Parisian sky, consuming the building's stone bell towers and flying buttresses. While firefighters tried to put out the fire, it was too high for them to reach by boat or truck. Some firefighters had trouble even getting to the scene due to rush-hour traffic.

The fire first broke out around 6:50 p.m. local time, with the spires falling a little over an hour later.

Over the years, Notre-Dame survived revolutions and wars; it stood as an icon in times of triumph, and as a place of solace during moments of despair. At one point, the Cathedral was almost demolished - before being saved by Napoleon, who went on to crown himself emperor within its walls in 1804.

On Monday a senior fire official told journalists on the scene that they may not be able to stop the fire as it continues to spread.

"Like all of our fellow citizens, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn," President Macron said on Twitter.

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