Belfast Telegraph

Don Anderson: Can Notre Dame rise like a phoenix from the flames?

 

Notre Dame burns
Notre Dame burns
The fire at Bank Buildings in Belfast
The fire at Windsor Castle
The fire at the Cutty Sark in London

By Don Anderson

I watched with sinking heart Notre Dame burning and then I thought of our Bank Buildings fire. Two buildings of historic significance in the centre of two cities, left as blackened shells by fires so fierce they took a long time to douse and both destructions leaving a disrupted city heart.

The comparison comes to an abrupt halt at that point, naturally. Bank Buildings, though much loved locally, was never going to be a world heritage site attracting 13 million visitors annually, and certainly not educational parties of school children from around the province.

Firefighters battle blaze at Mater Hospital laundry room

We cannot yet be sure what caused the Notre Dame or the Bank Buildings blazes. Both were being renovated when fire broke out, but it has yet to be established that the fires were a direct result of the renovation works.

Only last month the United States Fire Administration, part of the Homeland Security Agency issued a bulletin entitled 'Fire prevention at buildings under renovation or construction'.

The opening paragraph is prescient. It reads: "Buildings under construction or renovation are at their most vulnerable and weakest condition. Accumulation of waste combustibles, limited access, minimal water supply and hazardous operations increase the challenge. Add to this the effects of firefighting operations, increased water weight, weakened metal and support structures, and hidden hot spots."

Those words were first published by the organisation in 2010, but it thought the message so important that it bore repeating now.

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We are well aware of how wood burns. Every July the Fire Service tries to convince the builders of bonfires that towering pallet structures are just as likely to topple as the spire of Notre Dame.

They try to convey that the heat is likely to affect buildings nearby and can be difficult to suppress.

The roof structure of Notre Dame may have been built from a forest of up to 13,000 oak trees felled at the beginning of the last millennium and planted in the middle of the millennium before that.

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Smoke is seen around the alter inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)
The steeple of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapses as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
An aerial view of the fire raging at Notre Dame Cathedral. (Photo by - / AFP)-/AFP/Getty Images
Firemen inspect the Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral to establish next steps to save what remains after a devastating fire destroyed much of the almost 900-year-old building. With the fire that broke out Monday evening and quickly consumed the cathedral now under control, attention is turning to ensuring the structural integrity of the remaining building. (AP Photo/Christophe Enaa)
Flames and smoke are seen as the interior of the Notre-Dame Cathedral continues to burn on April 15, 2019, in the French capital Paris. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP)PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
Flames rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People pray as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Flames illuminate the night sky as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
File photo dated 01/03/15 of the North Rose stained glass window at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, which is feared to have been destroyed by fire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire
A fire fighter gestures as a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People watch Notre Dame cathedral burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
People watch Notre Dame cathedral burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A fire fighter tackles the blaze as flames and smoke rise while Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A fire fighter tackles the blaze as flames and smoke rise while Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
(Lori Hinant/AP)
(AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Lori Hinant/AP)
Thibault Camus/AP)
(Lori Hinnant/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Michel Euler/AP)
Firefighters tackle the blaze at Notre Dame (Francois Mori/AP)
Smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo credit: Ashley Huntington/Mercedes Girona/PA Wire
Handout photo taken with permission from the twitter feed of @slopezserra of smoke pouring from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which is on fire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: @slopezserra/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Handout video grab taken from the Twitter feed of @leistomania93 of smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: @leistomania93/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - (Photo by Pierre Galey / AFP)PIERRE GALEY/AFP/Getty Images
The steeple collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame Cathedral (Michel Euler/AP)
Firefighters tackle the blaze at Notre Dame (Thibault Camus/AP)
Crowds watch from a safe distance (Thibault Camus/AP)
Smoke billows from Notre Dame Cathedral (Lori Hinnant/AP)
Notre Dame Cathedral by the River Seine (Mike Egerton/PA)
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (David Davies/PA)

This was very dry wood, highly inflammable, and unfortunately for that reason alone fire goes hand in hand with historic buildings.

A list of what has gone up in flames during renovation should be educational. Many remember the fire in Windsor Castle in 1992, another Norman building that was being restored.

In 1996 Venice's magnificent La Fenice opera hall burned to the ground. In 2018 the Art Nouveau Mackintosh Building at the Glasgow School of Art was devastated by fire for the second time in four years. Materials used in a student art project caused the first blaze in 2014. The second is still under investigation, but the building was being restored at the time.

In 2007 Clipper ship Cutty Sark on dry dock display in Greenwich was set ablaze by a vacuum cleaner that restoration workmen left on over the weekend.

Ship refits suffer in the same manner.

The majestic Normandie was the pride of France and regarded at the time as the greatest liner ever built.

In 1942, during the Second World War, workers converting the luxury liner into a troop transport were using blowtorches close to piles of highly flammable life preservers.

Up they went and so did the ship.

Fire crews poured so much water into it that it capsized in New York City harbour. The Normandie was eventually towed away and cut up for scrap.

The lessons from all this have been learnt and set down in print.

The European Fire Protection Associations issued guidelines in 2013.

They say in the introduction: "Nations share responsibility to preserve historic buildings; ie, buildings of architectural or historic interest or significance. Together we compete with ravages of time, natural disasters and other perils which eventually destroy buildings....Many studies have been made on fires, especially in most important buildings of cultural heritage, and many guidelines have been written. There are new technical options for fire protection, but there are also new risks."

The document notes: "Reducing possibilities for a fire to start is a basic protection measure.

Most common causes of fires in historic buildings are arson, electrical faults, open fires, smoking materials, candles, heating equipment, lightning, hot works such as welding, cutting, and similar uses during works of renovation, etc."

The lesson is very clear.

All we can do is be even more rigorous in applying what we know in the hope of minimising mistakes.

However, sad though the aftermath of Notre Dame's destruction is, there is hope for the future.

Bank Buildings are being restored. The superb Guildhall in Londonderry was destroyed by fire in 1908 and rebuilt, rebuilt again after being bombed in 1972. Windsor Castle reopened in 1997.

La Fenice was rebuilt and opened in late 2003. Cutty Sark was back in business in 2012, though closed briefly again in 2014 after a smaller fire.

Perhaps the most wondrous restoration is the rebuilding of the 200-year-old baroque Frauenkirche of Dresden, utterly destroyed in the drastic fire bombing of 1945.

For 44 years the rubble remained just as it fell, a reminder of the devastation of war and fire.

The huge pile of stones, bracketed by two slender surviving walls, became overgrown with roses and small trees.

But then a near miracle. The stonework was carefully sorted by the people of Dresden in 1993.

Using IBM technology, each stone was then identified and marked for reintegration into its original place in the building, so that 45% of the new construction used the old. The church was reconsecrated in 2005.

I have visited it and today it looks as if it had never fallen. The rebuilt church is considered a landmark symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies, and illustrates the possibility of rebirth.

The walls and bell towers of Notre Dame have survived. Frauenkirche shows what can be done in the face of much worse damage.

From what the French nation and many throughout the world are now saying, that old cathedral, a monument of European civilisation, will rise again.

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