Notre Dame fire: Measures in place to protect New York-area cathedrals

MIDTOWN (WABC) -- Nations across the globe expressed solidarity with France after the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral, which collapsed the spire and burned through the roof of the 12th-century building.

The tragic disaster sparked an outpouring of grief and reminiscing of visits to the Parisian landmark, but it also prompted fears as to safety precautions in place in local historic churches.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan and many others flocked to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to pray for Notre Dame as it went up in flames.
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Timothy Cardinal Dolan and so many others flocked to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan on Monday to pray for Notre Dame as it went up in flames.


There is extensive damage inside the 850-year-old landmark, but firefighters were able to contain the worst of the blaze to the roof and the 250-foot spire.

The ancient building did not have a fire suppression system, but conversely, St. Patrick's Cathedral had its own extensive renovations completed three years ago that included a state of the art high-pressure water mist system that would activate in the event of a fire.

It is designed to protect the attic and roof from a fire, and experts tell Eyewitness News that while work was being done on the cathedral, a so-called "fire watch" was on duty.

The fire watch is a person hired to monitor the renovations and be on hand with a water hose in case a fire starts.

It's an FDNY requirement for big jobs in New York, according to former Fire Commissioner Tom Von Essen.

"My guess is that didn't happen there," he said. "A solid lead roof that keeps the water out also doesn't let the water in from all the hoses they were shooting at it, so it had to be put out from inside. They weren't able to put that fire out until the ceiling collapsed, and it dropped down into the base of the cathedral."

Services resumed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine Tuesday morning after a small fire broke out in the crypt below the cathedral on Palm Sunday.

Worshipers at the historic cathedral in Morningside Heights were undaunted, but even though the blaze was extinguished within an hour, it forced Palm Sunday services outside for the day.

The cathedral did not have services or tours Monday, but reopened Tuesday for Holy Week services.

The building dates back to 1892 and is the world's largest Gothic cathedral, popular with tourists and parishioners, but in 2001, a six-alarm blaze caused severe structural damage. And 18 years after the fire, they are still rebuilding to this day.

"When the fire department got in, what we found was about a quarter of the artwork and things that were in there was destroyed by the fire," Dean Clifton Daniel III said. We lost some icons, 15th century icons. A chair made in the 17th century, some other furniture, some prints, some artifacts."

After years of reconstruction, it was rededicated in 2008 with new fire safety measures in place.

"This is all stone," Daniel said. "It's not going to burn. The chairs might burn, the wood and things. But the cathedral itself is essentially fireproof. The roof tresses in this part of the building for us, these roof tresses are not wood. They're steel, for that very reason."

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