Alors oui, nous rebâtirons la cathédrale Notre-Dame

It was close.

Notre Dame Cathedral was within “15 to 30 minutes” of complete destruction as firefighters battled to stop flames reaching its gothic bell towers, French authorities have revealed.

A greater disaster was averted by members of the Paris fire brigade, who risked their lives to remain inside the burning monument to create a wall of water between the raging fire and two towers on the west facade.

Merci, pompiers.

The cathedral is owned by the state and has been at the centre of a years-long dispute between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

How about both? Or maybe a 75/25 split, with the church giving more because the cathedral is a nice little earner? Assuming it is; I’m guessing but I don’t know.

After the conflagration was declared completely extinguished, 15 hours after it started, the junior interior minister, Laurent Nunez, said the structure had been saved but remained vulnerable. He praised the actions of the firefighters but admitted the fate of the cathedral had been uncertain. “They saved the edifice, but it all came down to 15-30 minutes,” Nunez said.

Close close close.

The fire, which had started at the base of the 93-metre spire at about 6.40pm on Monday, spread through the cathedral’s ribbed roof, made up of hundreds of oak beams, some dating back to the 13th century. These beams, known as la forêt (the forest) because of their density, formed the cross-shaped roof that ran the length of the nave and transept above stone vaults.

As hundreds of tourists and Parisians stood and watched the flames leaping from the roof, there was shock and tears as the cathedral spire caught fire, burned and then collapsed into itself.

The 500 firefighters at the scene then battled to prevent the flames from reaching the two belfry towers, where the cathedral bells hang. If the wooden frame of the towers had caught fire, it could have sent the bells – the largest of which, the Emmanuel Bell, weighs 13 tonnes – crashing down, potentially causing the collapse of both gothic towers.

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