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.

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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Titian painting damaged during Fire in Venice Church (Italy)

bOn august 29th 2010, at 10 p.m., a fire has started at the roof level of the building near the Venice Salute Church. The fire, which could be an arson (witnesses have heard two explosions and the fire started in two different points), spread immediately to the roof of the church. Firefighters have used large amounts of water to limit the spread of the blaze, in order to avoid the collapse of the roofs of the rooms of the church.

In few hours the fire has been extinguished.

The morning after the fire, the Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) painting “Davide and Goliath” has been removed from its location (in a room directly connected to the church main hall) in order to limit damages due to water used by firefigthers.

The roof of the Santa Maria della Salute Church, threatened by the fire, is considered one of the most remarkable in Venice.

In the recent years firefigthers have started using to extinguish fires water from the new city fire hydrant system. Such water is much less aggressive than the lagoon water, used until few years ago and it has limited damages to the painting.

Fire Safety Retrofitting in Historical Buildings

1aImproving fire safety level of historical buildings is one of the most common problems to deal with after a fire risk assessment. The theme is not easy, since fire safety technical issues are relevant as conservation ones. ┬áIn August 1989, the US Government Agency General Service Administration published the paper “Fire Safety Retrofitting in Historical Buildings” in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The document provides guidance to ensure that fire safety retrofitting has minimal impact on the historic features of the property.