Investigators have found burnt cigarettes inside what remains of Notre Dame — but the cause of the massive fire at the cathedral is still unconfirmed.
French news outlet BFM-TV reported on Wednesday that officials looking into last week’s destructive blaze at the Paris landmark have found seven cigarette butts at the site, despite a smoking ban being in place.
The church has been undergoing a $6.8 million restoration project. The owner of Le Bras Freres, the company responsible for the construction scaffolding around the roof and spire, has admitted that his employees did “sometimes” smoke on the job, flouting the rules, Reuters confirms.
But a spokesperson for the family-owned company doesn’t believe that the fire could have been caused by the cigarettes, telling Reuters: “We condemn it. But the fire started inside the building… so for company Le Bras this is not a hypothesis, it was not a cigarette butt that set Notre-Dame de Paris on fire.”
Initial reports indicated the fire started in Notre Dame’s attic, which has a wooden framework, and spread across the roof and up the 300-foot spire. The attic is nicknamed “the forest” for its dense timber structure, says Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz. There are also no sprinklers or fire-blocking walls installed in this area, as there are elsewhere in the historic building.
There were no workers scheduled to be on the rooftop scaffolding when the fire broke out at 6:20PM on April 15, BFM-TV reported shortly after the blaze began.
Paris Fire brigade officials reportedly stated at the time that the fire was “potentially linked” to the renovation of the building, according to the Chicago Tribune. But investigators stated on Wednesday that they could not yet determine if the workers’ cigarettes were linked to the fire.
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The magnitude of the fire was likely do to the period of time it burned undiscovered.
The first alarm went off at the church at 6:20 p.m. Checks were carried out at that time, Heitz confirms, but no fire was found. It wasn’t until 23 minutes later, when a second alarm sounded, that the blaze was located, according to the New York Times. By that time, it could not be contained.
BFM-TV’s Wednesday update also indicates that it was “human error” that the fire was not found sooner. The person sent to check on the location where the alarm sounded went to the wrong part of the cathedral, despite the fire detection system indicating the correct spot, according to a source close to the investigation.
Despite the destruction, the main part of the structure has been saved and fundraising for the effort to restore and rebuild the 850-year-old building has already topped $1 billion, thanks to massive donations from wealthy French citizens including Francois Pinault, Salma Hayek’s husband, who pledged $100 million euros to the effort, and LVMH head Bernard Arnault, who will contribute $200 million euros.
The Catholic church is a world-famous landmark for the French capital, second only perhaps to the Eiffel Tower, and draws about 13 million visitors per year. It has been a center of religious and cultural life there since it was completed around 1365.
The building has weathered its share of tragedies over the years. During the French Revolution, it was looted and desecrated, according to The Guardian, before Napoleon began renovations in the mid-1800s. The cathedral also survived both world wars — including the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II.
It has undergone even more restoration and cleaning projects over the years, including major efforts in 1963 and 1991.
French President Emmanual Macron has stated that he hopes to have the cathedral completely rebuilt in five years, though some experts suggest it will be much longer. Paris is scheduled to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.