Notre-Dame officials chose not to install fire safety upgrades that could have limited the devastating blaze

Monday's fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral started in the attic. Pictured above is a view of the attic that was posted on the cathedral's website.

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Monday’s fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral started in the attic. Pictured above is a view of the attic that was posted on the cathedral’s website.
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Notre-Dame de Paris

  • Officials had decided not to install firewalls and sprinkler systems that could have limited Monday’s devastating blaze at Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
  • This is despite the fact that similar buildings throughout Europe and the US, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, have been retrofitted with such safety measures.
  • “The lack of fire security allowed the fire to spread quickly,” one expert told The Times. “If there were sprinklers everywhere it might have been different, but there weren’t.”

Monday’s 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 Monday evening near the spire, in the cathedral’s attic, an area called “the forest” because of its lattice of wooden beams that support the roof.

Notre-Dame is pictured the day after the devastating fire.

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Notre-Dame is pictured the day after the devastating fire.
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Amaury BLIN /AFP/Getty

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.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron announced plans to rebuild Notre-Dame in 5 years, but it could take much longer

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.

Firefighters work to extinguish the blaze on Monday.

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Firefighters work to extinguish the blaze on Monday.
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Michel Stoupak/NurPhoto/Getty

Leniaud said the state, which owns Notre-Dame, has fire safety regulations, but they can be hard to apply at monuments as famous as Notre-Dame.

“There’s always been a hesitation to disfigure the monument in question,” he told The Times.

Jim Lygate, a visiting professor of fire investigation at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out to The Times that similar structures in Britain are now required to have firewalls.