“Notre Dame is on fire.” Something I absolutely wasn’t expecting to hear when I picked up the phone. Romain happened to be driving by the cathedral and saw the fire in its earliest stages. Immediately I noticed the smell of smoke coming from my open windows. I asked him if it was bad, and he responded “very.”
The Notre Dame Fire
I went outside to look and noticed a huge cloud of smoke right away. When Romain arrived shortly after we walked to the Pont du Carrousel to get a better view. It was there that I first saw the massive flame in between the two towers. Even though I was looking right at it, it was still almost impossible to comprehend what was happening. At that point many people still had no idea what was going on or where the smoke was coming from.
As we moved closer to the Pont des Arts, a Vedettes de Paris boat went by. It was completely filled with passengers, yet very few seemed aware of what was happening just behind them. We walked down along the quais across from the Île de la Cité to approach Notre Dame. As we got closer it started to sink in just how massive fire actually was. It was an incredibly windy afternoon and the gravity of the situation really started to sink in.
We didn’t know what to do, so we joined the crowds watching in silence, helpless, as Our Lady of Paris burned. We stood there as the brave firefighters attempted to stop the fire, a task that ultimately took almost 12 hours.
It was so horribly heartbreaking and devastating to witness. There was a real and very probable chance that a centuries-old symbol of Paris and France would burn to the ground. A powerful place and monument for so many people around the world suddenly gone forever. I’ve never experienced anything like it before and hope never to again.
And this was all just my perspective. An American, living in France for under a year. Notre Dame certainly wasn’t “mine,” although it felt like it. Romain was born in the hospital just next door to Notre Dame. He said it felt like his heart was burning. It eventually became too difficult to watch, so we left, unsure if we would ever see Notre Dame again.
The structure of the cathedral survived thanks to the incredible work of the Pompiers de Paris. It’s truly a miracle. I still tear up looking at this image of the cross still standing at the altar after the fire.
As horrific as yesterday was, it’s once again a reminder to never take anything for granted. So much can change in an instant. It’s a miracle that no one was killed as a result of the fire.
Favorite Notre Dame Photos before the Fire
Below are a few photos of Notre Dame from before the fire. The first is from December 2018 with the Christmas Tree, truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The second is from February 2019, and last series is from April in Paris 2019, less than two weeks before the fire.