Notre Dame cathedral came within minutes of destruction but it is still standing today thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, authorities say. Laurent Nunez, France's deputy interior minister, said Tuesday that firefighters risked their lives to save the 850-year-old cathedral during a crucial 15- to 30-minute window of time, the BBC reports. Nunez praised the "courage and determination" of firefighters, who remained inside the burning cathedral to prevent the fire spreading to the building's two towers. The cathedral's roof and spire were destroyed in the blaze. The full extent of the damage is still to be assessed, but many of the priceless relics inside were saved. More:
- A stone "fire door." Medieval architecture expert Tom Nickson says the cathedral's builders also deserve credit for saving the building from fire. The cathedral's stone vault "acted as a kind of fire door between the highly flammable roof and the highly flammable interior," exactly as its 12th-century builders intended, he tells the Guardian.
- "We don't act without planning." Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for the Paris fire brigade, says firefighters drilled regularly to prepare for a possible fire at Notre Dame, the New York Times reports. "We don't act without planning," he says. "We know the cathedral. So we know what to do when something like that happens, we know, for instance, that we need to deploy boats on the Seine really quickly to pump large amounts of water." He says that of the 500 firefighters that responded, around 100 focused on saving the cathedral's treasures.
- Rebuilding deadline "unrealistic." President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that the cathedral would be rebuilt "even more beautifully" than before within five years, but some experts consider the timeline unrealistic, even though more than $1 billion has already been raised for the effort, the AP reports. Pierluigi Pericolo, head of restoration at the St. Donation basilica, says simply securing the building could take up to five years. "The end of the fire doesn't mean the edifice is totally saved," he says. "The stone can deteriorate when it is exposed to high temperatures and change its mineral composition and fracture inside."
- Arson, terrorism ruled out. Authorities say they still don't know how the fire started, but arson and terrorism have been ruled out, despite the claims of conspiracy theorists, USA Today reports. Investigators suspect the blaze was linked to restoration work. Some 30 people involved with the work have already been questioned.
- Timeline emerges. Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Tuesday that the first fire alarm went off at 6:20pm Monday, but no fire was found when somebody checked the ancient wooden attic known as the "forest," the Times reports. When another alarm went off at 6:43pm, they discovered the attic was ablaze. Experts say fire-prevention safeguards found in most other buildings were absent from Notre Dame, partly because authorities feared introducing anything involving wiring to the attic area would increase the risk of a fire.
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