Notre Dame fire poses unique challenges, says local firefighter

Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo)

Notre Dame was built about 800 years ago, so it has survived for centuries.

A building so old would present unique difficulties for firefighters.

DaWayne Watson, Riviera Beach Fire-Rescue Public Information Officer, says older structures seldom have fire sprinklers, so there would not be anything to douse the fire before firefighters can get in there and start to spray water on it.

He also says in a building like Notre Dame, there are no doubt layers and layers of paint and polish on furniture and other objects that have built up over the years, which could fuel the fire.

According to Watson, when a fire breaks out in a church or other building with such high ceilings, it can create an updraft, which causes the fire to swirl and the flames rise quickly..

“When you talk about buildings such as that with really high ceilings, the heat starts to rise to the top," Watson said. "Basically, when you have those type of fires it takes a lot of water, it takes a lot of manpower and basically what you have to do is outthink the fire."

Watson says in a building like Notre Dame, because it’s so old, it would be mostly wood and stone. So firefighters would not encounter as much plastic and synthetic building materials as they would in a new building.

Plastics and synthetics, he says, burn hotter than wood so those fires in newer buildings can sometimes be more difficult to put out.