French cigarette smokers: We didn’t start Notre-Dame fire

Firefighters douse flames billowing from the roof at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 15 2019 Credit Francois Guillot AFP Getty Images Firefighters douse flames billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 15, 2019. | Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

Sure, smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, low birth rates, strokes, and arthritis. But smoking didn't cause the April 15 fire at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, at least according to construction workers who smoked on the site.

A spokesman for a scaffolding firm doing work on the cathedral told reporters last week that while his workers "sometimes" smoked on the oak roof of the building, cigarettes were not the cause of the conflagration.

"We condemn it. But the fire started inside the building... so for company Le Bras this is not a hypothesis, it was not a cigarette butt that set Notre-Dame de Paris on fire," Le Bras Frères spokesman Marc Eskenazi told Reuters April 24.

Eskenazi's remarks came after French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported that police had found seven cigarette butts in the burnt-out cathedral, and sources close to the investigation confirmed the report.

"If cigarette butts have survived the inferno, I do not know what material they were made of," Eskenazi said, questioning how the butts could have survived the blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral. The spokesman also said it is impossible for cigarette butts to set even dry wood on fire.

The company also said that the fire was not started by its own scaffolding elevators, noting that their electrical systems were well-maintained, and that power was not running to the elevators at the time the fire begin.

Still, French prosecutors say they have not ruled out any possibilities regarding the start of the fire, and that they continue to investigate all possible causes.

The fire began on the evening of April 15, and destroyed the cathedral's roof, and spire. While the images of the cathedral' exterior suggested nearly total devastation after the fire, the cathedral's vaulted stone ceiling mostly held, and protected many of the cathedral's religious and historical treasures from the flames.

There is no formal estimate yet for how long the cathedral restoration will take. While France's President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would like to see restoration completed within five years, experts say that possibility is extremely unlikely.

Nearly one billion euro have been pledged to the restoration effort.

The cathedral's famed rose windows, its bell towers and massive bells, and its organ were all intact after the fire. The Church's most important religious items were spared from the fire: the Eucharist, and relics of Christ's crown of thorns and cross were saved during the fire.

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