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Questions for Paris fire brigade as Notre Dame inferno burns out of control for hours

Why couldn’t it be stopped faster and where were the firemen as blaze took hold? Questions for Paris fire crew as Notre Dame burns – but brigade chief leaps to defence of his men

  • Water will not be dropped on to Notre Dame for fears of ruining the cathedral 
  • Donald Trump suggested the tactic but authorities fear it could injure people 
  • ‘A Canadair projects about six tonnes of water at high speed to the ground’
  • 400 firefighters have been mobilised to help tackle the blaze at the cathedral 

The French Interior Ministry said 400 firefighters were mobilised to help tackle the blaze that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday.

And while hundreds of comments flooded the Pompiers du Paris Twitter page in support of the brave firefighters, many questions were raised as to how the fire was dealt with.

Did fire crews react quickly enough? 

The Paris fire chief last night paid tribute to his crews, saying they had saved the cathedral from total destruction.

Commander Jean-Claude Gallet said a major accomplishment of hundreds of firefighters was stopping the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry.

The ministry said that an ‘exceptional device’ had been deployed to tackle the fire, with a crane lifting a fireman to tackle the blaze

The ministry said that an ‘exceptional device’ had been deployed to tackle the fire, with a crane lifting a fireman to tackle the blaze 

He said two-thirds of Notre Dame’s roofing ‘has been ravaged’ and one firefighter was injured. Fire crews will keep working overnight to cool down the structure, Mr Gallet added.

However, there was criticism that the fire service had not responded quickly enough – and didn’t seem to have the right equipment to tackle such a large blaze.

Flames appeared to be raging inside the cathedral for a long time before water jets capable of stopping them were mobilised.

Were the fire crews well-equipped enough to deal with the flames?

Many observers, watching the tragedy unfold on TV, asked whether the fire teams had been well-equipped enough to deal with flames at such a height. Last night, the French interior ministry tried to defend the response – insisting that 400 firemen had been deployed.

The ministry suggested that aircraft were not used because it was feared that the weight of water falling at such a height could cause large parts of the cathedral to collapse.

Many observers, watching the tragedy unfold on TV, asked whether the fire teams had been well-equipped enough to deal with flames at such a height

Many observers, watching the tragedy unfold on TV, asked whether the fire teams had been well-equipped enough to deal with flames at such a height

In an online statement it said that an ‘exceptional device’ had been deployed to tackle the fire, with a crane lifting a fireman to tackle the blaze.

However, pictures appeared to show that this was the only one of its kind and residents questioned why more pressure hoses and cherry-picker cranes were not on site to be able to douse the flames from above as they took hold of the scaffolding and the roof near to the spire.

As the blaze raged, the Paris authorities insisted that getting fire teams to the top of the building ‘was almost impossible’.

‘It’s much too high up, and the only access is stone and spiral staircases,’ said an emergency services source. ‘This means that the fire has been able to spread across the roof.’

Jets of water are seen desperately trying to extinguish the flames engulfing Notre Dame

Jets of water are seen desperately trying to extinguish the flames engulfing Notre Dame

Local resident Michel Dupont said those living around the cathedral were upset more equipment was not on site to spray water at the flames high up. ‘A lot of us are asking questions about the authorities’ response,’ he said.

Liz Boeder, another Parisian, said ‘we need California firefighters’, in reference to the water-carrying aircraft used to tackle the forest fires in the US last year. Others who watched the blaze unfold on live TV also raised questions.

Kent Ardleb said: ‘What a tragedy. Notre Dame cathedral is lost. Where is the damn fire brigade?’

Another posted: ‘How come there aren’t any fire fighters or water jets to be seen on any photos!?’

Dave Pasin said: ‘It seems there are no firefighters to be seen, no water, nothing?’

The French Interior Ministry has mobilised 400 firefighters to help tackle the inferno that has been burning for hours

The French Interior Ministry has mobilised 400 firefighters to help tackle the inferno that has been burning for hours 

Why did the fire brigade not drop water on the Notre Dame Cathedral?

Authorities have revealed they were unable to drop water on the landmark to tame the blaze for fear it would ruin what was left of the 850-year-old cathedral as well as injuring people nearby.

In cases of intense fires, a water bomber jet – called a Canadair – can be deployed to drop large amounts of water.

French news site Le Monde, explained: ‘A Canadair projects about six tonnes of water at high speed to the ground.

Firefighters look at the fire at the landmark Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris as they cross a bridge over the Seine river

Firefighters look at the fire at the landmark Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris as they cross a bridge over the Seine river

‘The danger is significant of hurting one or more people around the building – which is why Canadair interventions are so infrequent in urban and peri-urban areas.

‘Such an intervention could also significantly destroy the little remaining structure of the cathedral.’ 

What caused the blaze to spread so quickly?

The roof structure is made entirely in timber, with each beam being made from a single oak tree in a tight lattice – which may be the key to understanding last night’s disaster. In all, 5,000 oaks were used in making it.

Using innovative architectural techniques to assert France’s growing status as a European power, its soaring vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses and doors surmounted by a row of figures of Old Testament kings were an expression of royal grandeur.

The building is longer than a football pitch at 427ft, with its largely wooden spire – which collapsed on Monday – once soaring 300ft into the Parisian sky.

The sheer amount of wood and its grand scale both worked against it when the blaze took hold. 

A picture taken less than a month ago shows a scaffold during the restoration of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, in Paris

A picture taken less than a month ago shows a scaffold during the restoration of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, in Paris

‘It makes sense that it would be incredibly flammable,’ explained Notre Dame contributor Daniel Christian on the website for the landmark.

The structure’s aging wooden frame has long been a topic of concern, and a $ 6.8million renovation project was underway to address some of the many issues at the historic building.

But as the fire ‘started near the spire, where the scaffolding is,’ it has been suggested that the renovation work sparked the flames.

Officials have not yet determined if this was the case. 

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