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Notre Dame was on the brink of collapse during April fire

Notre Dame reconstruction
Notre Dame reconstruction in May. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Notre Dame Cathedral was near collapse as firefighters risked their lives to control the destructive fire in April, further developments and analysis by the New York Times show.

Why it matters: If the fire had spread for much longer, the bell tower and the floor beneath the firefighters would have caved in and destroyed the 850-year-old building.

Reports indicated that during the 4-hour blaze, French officials feared the church would be unsalvageable.

What could have gone wrong: The Times combed through hundreds of documents and conducted extensive interviews.

  • If the beams holding up 8 giant bells had collapsed, they could have acted "like wrecking balls," destroying the tower.
  • Nearly a dozen firefighters were at risk of the floor giving out from under them as they tried to contain the flames.
  • The church's spire came crashing down and broke several stone vaults of the nave.
  • The intricate lattice woodwork in the attic known as "the forest" was ravaged.

French authorities are still investigating how the fire started and what was to blame. Historians told the Times that Notre Dame's blaze was inevitable due to a complicated fire warning system and poor historic preservation oversight.

  1. The church's fire alarm system was so complex that it caused the newly hired security guard to check the wrong building adjacent to the church instead of the attic.
  2. Firefighters arrived after being called roughly 30 minutes after the "first red signal lit up the word 'Feu,'" explains the Times.

The bottom line: Several reports indicated the structure's survival was a miracle. That was "due solely to the enormous risks taken by firefighters in those third and fourth hours," per the Times.