Major lacunae found in Notre-Dame fire

The fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris may not have been so devastating if officials had decided to install fire-resistant walls or a sprinkler system. While many similar buildings in Europe and the US have been retrofitted with such fire safety measures, officials ultimately decided against introducing them at Notre-Dame, The New York Times reported.

The fire broke out near the spire, in the cathedral’s attic, an area called “the forest” because of its lattice of wooden beams that support the roof. Many of the beams have been up there since the 12th or 13th century, when the cathedral was originally built, and have become dried out in that time, making the area especially susceptible to fire.

Officials decided not to introduce firewalls or sprinkler systems to this area because they were concerned electrical wiring would be too big a risk to the timber, according to The Times. But had they been there, experts say it could have extinguished the blaze, or at least contained it to one area until firefighters could arrive. “The lack of fire security allowed the fire to spread quickly,” historical expert Jean-Michel Leniaud told the Times. “If there were sprinklers everywhere it might have been different, but there weren’t.”

Eric Salmon, the former site manager of Notre-Dame, told the Washington Post that the Strasbourg Cathedral, where he now works, has installed firewalls that segment the roof into five sections so that a single blaze can’t take down the whole structure. According to the Associated Press, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City also recently installed a sprinkler-like system, and coated its wooden roof with fire retardant. Washington National Cathedral also plans to install sprinklers.