According to the French Interior Ministry, 400 firefighters were mobilised to help fight the blaze that ripped through the Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. The Pompiers du Paris Twitter page had comments of support but also questions about how the blaze was dealt with.
Commander Jean-Claude Gallet, the Paris fire chief, praised the crews, saying they had saved the Cathedral from total destruction and had stopped the spread of the fire to the north tower belfry.
He added that two-thirds of the Cathedral’s roofing has been ‘ravaged’ and that a firefighter has been injured, but fighters will keep working overnight to tackle the blaze.
Despite this, the fire service has been criticised for not reacting quickly enough and for not having the correct equipment to tackle the fire. Images suggest that flames were raging inside the Cathedral long before water jets big enough to stop them were mobilised.
According to the Daily Mail, many observers questioned whether the service had the equipment to deal with flames of such a height, but the Interior Ministry responded, saying 400 fighters had been deployed.
In an online statement, it said that an ‘exceptional device’ had been used, with a crane lifting a firefighter to tackle the blaze. But this seems to be the only one that what used, and questions have been raised asking why more pressure hoses and cherry-picker cranes were not used.
During the fire, the Paris authorities said it was ‘almost impossible’ to get people to the top of the building. An emergency services source said, ‘It's much too high up, and the only access is stone and spiral staircases. This means that the fire has been able to spread across the roof.'
Local resident Michel Dupont claimed that those living near the Cathedral were annoyed that more equipment was not used to spray water at the flames high up, saying 'A lot of us are asking questions about the authorities' response’.
Another local, Liz Boeder, said ‘we need California firefighters', in reference to the water-carrying aircraft used to tackle US forest fires last year. Others on live TV also raised questions. But onlookers were also seen singing hymns and applauding exhausted firefighters.
Kent Ardleb said, 'What a tragedy. Notre Dame cathedral is lost. Where is the damn fire brigade?'
Someone else 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?'
However, Paris’ deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, told BFM-TV that their focus was on securing the area around the Cathedral and salvaging anything rescuers could get their hands on. The deputy mayor said that ‘From now on, a special mission has been launched to try to save all works of art that can be saved. Priority was given to securing the surrounding area to protect tourists and residents from the risk of collapse.’
The ministry stated that aircraft were not used for fear that the dropping of water from such a height would cause large parts of the Cathedral to collapse and that people nearby would be injured by it.
The water bomber jet – a Canadair – can be used to drop water to stop fires. Le Monde explained, ‘A Canadair projects about six tonnes of water at high speed to the ground. 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.’
5,000 oaks were used to build the Cathedral. The roof structure is made entirely in timber, with each beam being made from a single oak tree in a tight lattice. This might be why the blaze spread so quickly. Its grand scale also worked against it.
Notre Dame contributor Daniel Christian, on the website for the landmark, said, ‘It makes sense that it would be incredibly flammable’.
The building’s ageing wooden frame has long been a topic of concern, and a $6.8million renovation project had been started to deal with some of the issues the Cathedral had.
Because the fire 'started near the spire, where the scaffolding is,' suggestions have been made that a stray flame linked to the renovation works caused it, but officials have not yet confirmed whether that is the case.