Posted on: The New York Times | April 16th, 2019
Author: Adam NossiterAurelien Breeden, Elian Peltier

Notre-Dame cathedral remains structurally sound after the monstrous fire that roared through it Monday night. But the conflagration that destroyed the wood-and-lead roof and lacy spire also left three holes in the sweeping vaulted ceiling, officials said after an inspection on Tuesday.

With the fire extinguished, officials began what the Paris prosecutor, Rémy Heitz, told journalists would be “a long and complex investigation,” though for now he said they were considering the disaster an accident.

“Nothing at this stage suggests a voluntary act,” he said.

The nearly 50 investigators assigned to the case were focusing on interviewing workers who had left the site but had been engaged in the restoration of the cathedral not long before the fire broke out.

The first fire alarm on Monday was set off at 6:20 p.m., and checks were carried out but no fire was found, Mr. Heitz said. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., he said, and fire was discovered in the wooden framework of the attic.

Whether the catastrophe could have been averted was a question now plaguing the officials, citizens and visitors who continued to congregate on the banks of the Seine River to contemplate the mutilated monument, an unequaled jewel of Gothic architecture.

Investigators faced the difficult task of determining a cause in the apparent absence of evidence, destroyed by the roaring flames that erupted in the “forest,” the wooden frame of ancient beams beneath the lead roof.

“At the cathedral, we have fire monitors,” the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. Patrick Chauvet, said Tuesday on France Inter, a radio station. “Three times a day they go up, under the wooden roof, to make an assessment.”

He said that there was also an on-site firefighter at the cathedral, although he did not say how often, where that person was normally stationed, or whether that person was present on Monday.

“For security, I don’t think we can do more,” he said. “But there is always an incident that you can’t predict.”

Whatever the cause of the fire, Parisians awakened to the new reality at the heart of their damaged capital: the city’s symbolic center damaged like never before in its more than 800 years of history, not by the furious revolutionaries who defaced it nor by misguided restorers who denatured it.

“It’s exposed to the sky — it’s an absolute tragedy, beyond anything we could have imagined,” said Stephen Bern, who has served as an adviser on France’s monuments to President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr. Bern said that the contractor for the building’s scaffolding — where the fire might have originated — was “serious,” and that safety regulations were “codified.” But “it all depends on human beings,” he said.

Mr. Macron made an immediate effort to heal the psychic wound, promising late Monday to rebuild the cathedral, a beloved symbol of the city for more than eight centuries.

Mr. Macron, standing outside the still-burning structure, said an international effort to raise money for reconstruction would begin on Tuesday.

“We will rebuild Notre-Dame,” he said, “because that is what the French expect.”

The billionaire Pinault family of France pledged 100 million euros, or about $113 million, to the effort, as did the French energy company Total, and L’Oréal and the Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation, which was established by the family that founded the cosmetics giant. The family of Bernard Arnault, owners of the luxury goods group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, plan to contribute €200 million.

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