Notre Dame Fire: what we know about

Fig. 1 – Simplified scheme of the Cathedral. Proportions and shapes are approximated.

The Notre Dame Cathedral fire is an iconic event and deserves to be studied appropriately. In the following text will be presented some considerations based on the information available on the internet.

Following at least 30 years of tragic fires that have destroyed several important cultural resources all over the world, such an important renovation site should have been followed with the utmost care. That does not mean that fire could not start but that a different outcome could have been reasonably expected if a fire happened. So, in order to better understand what really happened and, more important, why it happened (the site does not have access to direct information), in the following sections, articles and posts containing information and news about the fire will be quoted, together with the available information about the context, and the fire extinguishing operations carried out by the Paris Fire Brigade.

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Notre Dame in Paris burns – One more example of bad management during restoration works?

15th April,

The roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (France) is burning. The images that TV’s are broadcasting show high flames and no real possibility to extinguish them. The roof is too high from the ground to let firefighters try to extinguish the fire from the external part of the building and inside the building perhaps the conditions do not allow any significative possibility to limit damages.

At the moment, the cause of the fire seems to be identified in the ongoing maintenance or restoration works.
If this were the reason, it would be extremely serious that a historic building of such importance was the object of works without the necessary caution in limiting the risk of fire. it is universally known, in fact, that fires due to maintenance or restoration works are among the most disastrous for cultural buildings and that the most serious damages suffered by cultural heritage are due precisely to fires.

Earthquakes and Cultural Heritage: the STOP vademecum to help first responders limiting damages to buildings

Earthquakes pose a big threat to cultural and heritage buildings.
Normally, historic buildings are more vulnerable to seismic actions than ordinary ones. So, also the artifacts that such buildings normally protect are subject to damages, due to the debris and, sometimes, to fires ignited by earthquakes.

In the April 6th 2009 earthquake in Aquila (Italy), there is at least one recorded case of fire ignited by the earthquake in a historical building (a church in the center of Aquila old town). The most of the damages to cultural heritage in the Aquila earthquake are due to the collapse of the buildings and, for a lesser extent, to the mud that rains have brought the days following the earthquake.

 

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Real shoring in Aquila

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PROMEDHE EU Project – Protecting cultural heritage across borders


Promedhex 2018 Exercise. Assessment team working in the scenario of simulated earthquake damages inside a church.

Promedhe has been a project funded by the General-Directorate of the European Commission for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO). The project’s consortium included the Italian Civil Protection Department (DPC) as Coordinator, the Cyprus Civil Defence (CCD), the Palestinan Civil Defence (PCD), the National Emergency Management Agency of Israel (NEMA), the Jordan Civil Defence (JCD) and

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ICOMOS 2003 Charter on Restoration and Safety of Cultural Heritage. Fire Safety approach aspects to Historical Buildings and Emergency Management?

ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites), is a global non-governmental organization associated with UNESCO dedicated to the conservation of the world’s monuments and sites. One of its most active areas of interest is, then, the conservation and restoration of sites and monuments. The list of documents concerning such commitment has been published in 1998:

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Protecting historical wood structures. A Workshop in Rome

The Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (Rome). The wooden roof collapsed roof on August 30th, 2018. Causes are still under investigation. Credits: www.vigilfuoco.it

On August 30th, 2019, a large portion of the wooden roof Church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami suddenly collapsed, damaging the interior and some of the paintings and artefacts preserved inside. The event, happened in the most historical part of Rome, has interested a sixteenth century building, whose construction had been funded by the Corporation of the Carpenters.

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How Climate Change will affect Museums: a book about Indoor Risks

Managing Indoor Climate Risks in Museums – Bart Ankersmit • Marc H.L. Stappers – Springer

Climate change, presumably, will affect the way buildings will be designed and managed. Also museums are challenged by such risk and a new kind of approach needs to be studied.

Among the wealth of websites and papers that the internet web allows to read about the climate change issue, Managing Indoor Climate Risks in Museums has the gift of explaining the big picture and, at the same time, giving practical tips to the many professionals that need to be supported in studying and applying real-world solution to a new problem.

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STORM Academy 2019: a Course on Cultural Heritage Protection and Climate Change

In three weeks, between January and February 2019, the EU financed STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) project has organised the STORM Academy 2019. The lessons will be held in Rome – National Fire Academy (I.S.A.) and in Viterbo (Tuscia University) by teachers selected among of the partners of the project.

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The European Forum for Distaster Risk Reduction addresses Cultural Heritage: Resilience and Risk Reduction

The European Forum for Disaster Risk Reduction (EFDRR) forms the regional platform structure of Europe of the UNISDR, the U.N.  Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.  The 2018 meeting, of the Forum has been held in Rome on November 21-23.

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CURE: an UNESCO – World Bank Group Position Paper on Cultural Heritage and Reconstruction

CURE (Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery) is a position paper published in 2018 by UNESCO and the  World Bank Group that offers, according the foreword (Mr Enrico Ottone and Mr Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez), “a framework on Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery and operational guidance for policymakers and practitioners for the planning, financing, and implementation phases of post-crisis interventions for city reconstruction and recovery“. Continue reading “CURE: an UNESCO – World Bank Group Position Paper on Cultural Heritage and Reconstruction”

Europe is ready for climate impact. The EU Commission evaluates its strategy, but what about Cultural Heritage protection?

Europe is ready for climate impacts: Commission evaluates its strategy. From: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/

On November 12th, 2018, the European Commission has posted on its website some information about  a report (Europe is ready for climate impacts: Commission evaluates its strategy) on lessons learned and reflections on improvements for future action with regard to the impacts of climate change on economic sectors of EU regions. Continue reading “Europe is ready for climate impact. The EU Commission evaluates its strategy, but what about Cultural Heritage protection?”

First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis – a double ICCROM publication

Cover of the ICCROM Toolkit “FIRST AID TO CULTURAL HERITAGE IN TIMES OF CRISIS”

On October 2018 ICCROM (the intergovernamental organization on International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) has published a couple of documents about “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in times of crisis”:  a 176 pages pdf handbook and a 104 pages pdf toolkit. Continue reading “First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis – a double ICCROM publication”

Second Fire almost Destroys the Glasgow School of Art

Fire blazes through the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building on 16 June 2018. ‘The heart of Glasgow’s Mackintosh legacy has been ripped away.’ Photograph: Scottish Fire Service Handout/EPA (theguardian.com)

A ferocious fire has devastated – probably destroying the 50 percent irreparably – the School of Art, a masterpiece by the Scottish architect Rennie Mackintosh. The building was famous because, together with works by Victor Horta, Henry Van de Velde, Adolf Loos and the American Louis Sullivan, represented a peak of that style that marked the passage from nineteenth-century eclecticism to modernity, functionalism and even twentieth century rationalism. Continue reading “Second Fire almost Destroys the Glasgow School of Art”

3D Scanning and Emergency Management of Cultural Heritage Buildings after Earthquakes: the St. Francis of Assisi Integrated System

3D scanning of the three levels of the St. Francis of Assisi Basilica (Assisi, Italy) -courtesy of Prof.  Fabio Garzia – La Sapienza University, Rome (Italy).

One of the main problems of emergency management in case of damage reported by historic buildings after an earthquake is represented by immediate damage assessment. In fact, nowadays it is not possible to use techniques other than the personal evaluation carried out by first responders.

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Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections: an ICCROM-UNESCO handbook

Emergency Evacuation of Heritage Collections (ICCROM-UNESCO) – Handbook cover.

Protecting Cultural Heritage is  mainly aimed at avoiding that any kind of  hazard could pose an excessive  risk to the objects that must be preserved. There are conditions, nonetheless, that oblige to evacuate the artefacts, since the preventive measures cannot be anymore effective.  So, in specific situations, museums and their staff may  go through challenging times due both to natural disasters and climate change.

In the case of museums, when they  are threatened for their role in protecting and valorizing precious witnesses of the past and human creativity, their intrinsic value for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding  must be protected and supported.

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Vegetation Fire and Cultural Heritage buildings: the Paul Getty Museum case study

Flames endangers the I 405 by the Getty Center on Dec. 5th (Credits: Melissa Castro)

On December 5th, 2017, a large brush fire in California has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of homes and other buildings. According the media no injuries or structural damage have been reported, although the museum has been threatened and closed to the public on Wednesday 5th. Continue reading “Vegetation Fire and Cultural Heritage buildings: the Paul Getty Museum case study”

The oldest fire detection system ever? The case of St. Paul outside the Wall Basilica in Rome

St. Paul outside the Walls fire – Rome July 15th, 1823
(from: Archivio di San Paolo Basilica – Rome)

In the night of July 15th, 1823, a fire destroyed a large part of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome. In the following years reconstruction works, particularly interesting  for the historical evolution of fire safety measures, began. In particular, the fire protection system adopted seems to be the first case of automatic detection and alarm system ever designed in the world. Continue reading “The oldest fire detection system ever? The case of St. Paul outside the Wall Basilica in Rome”

Forest Fire Risks to Cultural Heritage

When it comes to assess the risks of fire to Cultural Resources buildings or artefacts, normally they are related to buildings.  In a consistently smaller number of cases, the scenario is related to a forest or a vegetation fire.

The technical literature concerned with the protection of cultural heritage from the risks of fire rarely takes this issue into account. One of the few documents that fully addresses this aspect is the Wildland Fire report in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Cultural Resources and Archeology, published by the United States Department of Agricolture. Continue reading “Forest Fire Risks to Cultural Heritage”

Water Mist and Cultural Heritage: can Simulation Tools help assessing its effect?

The_Blue_Boat_1892_Winslow_Homer – Museum of Fine Arts – Boston 

Watercolor images are among the most vulnerable artefacts to the effects of firefighting water  systems.

According to the NFPA 750 definition, watermist is a water spray for which the 99% of the total volume of liquid (Dv0.99) is distributed in droplets with a diameter smaller than 1000 microns at the minimum design operating pressure of the water mist nozzle.A slightly different definition has been introduced by the CEN/TS 14972,  as a water spray for which the 90% of the total volume of liquid (Dv0.90) is distributed in droplets with a diameter smaller than 1000 microns at the minimum design operating pressure of the water mist nozzle. Continue reading “Water Mist and Cultural Heritage: can Simulation Tools help assessing its effect?”

Effects of Fire on Cultural Resources and Archaeology: an USDA publication

USDA – Forest Service – Wildland Fire in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Cultural Resources and Archaeology.

A problem neglected by the most of the studies concerning the protection of Cultural Resources against natural hazards deals with the exposition of archaelogical artefacts to vegetation fire risks. All tangible and intangible cultural assets can be damaged by fires. Thus, archaeological remains are exposed to the risk caused by forest fires.

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