Notre Dame blaze: fire experts on safeguarding heritage sites
A great flame rising between the two towers with whirlwinds of sparks […] Below that fire, below the gloomy balustrade […] two spouts with monster throats were vomiting forth unceasingly […] jets of liquid lead […] like water springing from the thousand holes of a watering-can.
No. Not dateline Paris 2019 but Paris 1831, an extract from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, first published in that year.
On the catastrophic conflagration at the Notre Dame Cathedral one fire expert was less evocative, but more revealing on the fire’s dynamics. Steve Emery, Oxford University fire officer and formerly fire safety adviser at English Heritage, told Wired that the lead covering the roof would have initially slowed the fire’s growth by preventing fresh air from fanning the flames. But as lead, which melts at 324 degrees celsius, dripped away the wind would have hit the fire, accelerating its spread. The melting lead would have splattered onto other timber beams, enlarging the blaze.
Such complexities of flashover in so ancient a building, with an open volume of 100,000 cubic metres (larger than the Royal Albert Hall), prompted us to seek the opinion of industry leaders as to how our architectural heritage can be protected against fire without damaging the special character of historic sites.