Notre-Dame fire puts the spotlight on historic building safety

33738429838 004bc1d311 zFirefighters in Paris have brought the fire in the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral under control

The fire spread quickly to the roof of the cathedral, causing the spire to collapse, destroying much of the wooden interior and melting stained glass windows. Five hundred firefighters worked through the night to bring the fire under control and surrounding buildings were evacuated. It appears that the cathedral’s two towers have been saved, along with much of the stone roof vaulting and some artifacts, which were stored in vaults or had been removed prior to renovation work.

Fire brigade spokesperson Lt-Col Gabriel Plus said “the whole of the roof has been devastated ... a part of the vault has collapsed, the spire is no more.”

The search teams are assessing the extent of the damage and the Paris prosecutor’s office released a statement saying the fire is being investigated as an accident. While the cause of the fire is yet to be determined, officials have told the media it could be linked to the ongoing renovation work.

US president Donald Trump attracted criticism after he tweeted: “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out.” Fire safety experts and structural engineers were quick to point out that dropping water from above could cause the 850-year-old building to collapse entirely and that if a helicopter was used, the rotors could fan the flames, causing the fire to spread further.

Structural engineer Carlos Leiva told Health, Safety and Security Review Middle East while the fire was still burning last night that “spraying from the ground, like the Paris firefighters are doing right now ... and preferably spraying with foam” is the correct approach for a fire in a building of this type.

“Dumping water on a weakened wood beam is like an axe blow on a tree,” Leiva explained. “Timber frames that old have very rudimentary bracing, and water comes down at an angle, imparting lateral reactions that cannot be withstood.”

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