Notre Dame Fire Investigations Centred on Roof Renovations

FOLLOWING the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, early investigations into its cause are focusing on the roof restoration work that was being carried out.

The fire, which rapidly spread from the roof space across two-thirds of the roof towards the apse end of the cathedral, is thought to have been accidentally started when roof workers left work for the day yesterday (Monday). The fire was first spotted at 6.50 pm (7.50pm GMT).

Extensive scaffolding surrounding the spire covered most of the roof’s area and is thought to be the location of the fire’s first outbreak.

The Paris fire department has already spoken to construction workers as part of its preliminary investigations, a spokesperson said.

Roof construction
The 100-foot roof structure of the medieval cathedral was nick-named ‘the forest’, derived from the oak roof rafters that were constructed from 1,300 300-400-year old oak trees, with each rafter shaped from a different tree – representing approximately 21 hectares of forest.

The original roof was restored in the eighteenth century as part of an extensive renovation programme at that time, when the spire was also added to the centre of the cathedral’s roof, above the nave. Current renovations were centred on the 500 tonnes timber and 250 tonnes lead spire, which collapsed during the fire.

Like the spire, the 55o pitched cathedral roof was covered in 5mm thick lead ‘tiles’, weighing 210 tonnes. The great weight of the roof was only made possible as a result of the medieval architectural innovation of flying buttresses, which support the roof load independently of the cathedral’s walls.

Clare Watson, chair of the National Federation of Building Heritage Group, said: “We understand the anguish of seeing such an important landmark destroyed so quickly while being witnessed in real time across the world. In a time of global and political divisions, let us not forget how important Notre Dame was and will be, as a symbol of national identity, of religion and as a feat of architecture. This building brought people together.”

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