It's possible the damage could have been minimized had the fire been caught sooner — and it almost was

By Mackenzie Schmidt
April 16, 2019 06:18 PM

The main structure of Notre Dame Cathedral has been saved after a massive fire broke out at the Paris landmark on Monday. But it’s possible the damage could have been minimized had the fire been caught sooner — and it almost was.

New reports indicate that the fire was not immediately discovered after the first alarms went off at the church at 6:20 p.m. local time. It wasn’t until 23 minutes later, when a second alarm sounded, that the blaze was located, according to the New York Times. By that time, it could not be contained.

Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz confirmed the elapsed time and noted that checks were carried out after the first alarm sounded, but no threat was uncovered.

“What we know at this stage is that there was an initial alarm at 6:20 p.m., followed by a procedure to verify this but no fire was found. Then, there was a second alarm at 6:43 p.m. and at that point a fire was detected in the structure, Heitz stated, according to the Daily Beast.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but initial reports indicate it started in the attic, which has a wooden framework, and spread across the roof and up the 300-foot spire. They were completely consumed and eventually collapsed, leaving three gaping holes in the ceiling of the church. The attic is nicknamed “the forest” for its dense timber structure, says Heitz.


Notre Dame did have significant fire safety precautions in place at the time of the blaze. There are alarms within the building and they are regularly checked three times each day by monitors, the rector of the cathedral Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told a local Paris radio station.

A spokesperson for Notre Dame, André Finot, elaborated that there is a firefighter on site at the cathedral who has access to the alarm system. When a smoke detector is triggered, that system indicates in which part of the church there is potentially a fire.

However, the Times notes that the “forest” did not contain sprinklers or fire-breaking walls, which might have slowed the spread of the fire.


The 850-year-old Gothic cathedral was also undergoing a $6.8 million renovation, which began last April. The construction process included the installation of scaffolding around the spire. No cause for the blaze has been confirmed, though numerous witnesses and people associated with the construction companies doing work on the building have been interviewed, according to the Times. Five different companies were involved in the restoration project at the time of the fire.

The blaze has now been completely extinguished Late Monday night, a tweet from the AFP confirmed that a Paris fire official declared that the main structure of the historic building had been “saved and preserved.”

“The worst has been avoided, but the battle isn’t fully won yet,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech delivered outside of the church Monday night.

Thibault Camus/AP/REX/Shutterstock

He promised that the cathedral will be rebuilt. “It is with pride I tell you tonight we will rebuild this cathedral . . . we will rebuild Notre Dame because it is what the French expect of us, it is what our history deserves, it is, in the deepest sense, our destiny,” he said.

Overnight, $700 million has already been donated by wealthy French individuals and companies, including François Pinault, the husband of Salma Hayek, and Bernard Arnault, the head of luxury brand group LVMH. The city has also asked for donations from regular citizens to aid in rebuilding.

On Tuesday, Macron added that he hopes the task can be completed within five years, though some experts suggest it will be much longer. Paris is scheduled to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.