Not knowing whether to run toward or away from the flames, crowds shrouded in disbelief watched as a fire ripped through one of Paris’s most famous landmarks, Notre Dame Cathedral, on Monday evening.
The fire started at approximately 6:50 p.m. and was supposedly caused by construction on the building. As the NYU Paris study abroad site is just minutes from the cathedral, students were among the thousands of spectators witnessing the fire’s evolution and destruction.
CAS junior Yorai Vardi was on a class trip in the 19th Arrondissement when news of the fire first reached him. He immediately caught a train to the area and, from the moving carriage, watched the cathedral’s spire collapse.
“I thought it was a joke, and when I realized it was serious, my first thought was ‘I hope it wasn’t an attack,’” he said.
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After reaching the site — taped off and quickly flushing with a heavy presence of police and firefighters — Vardi attempted to get closer to the building.
“We push to the entrance of a bridge and realize the stained glass is gone,” he said, “and we’re thinking that the fire is inside the cathedral, based on our angle. We didn’t realize until we moved that there was no inside anymore.”
The NYU Paris administration sent an email to students an hour after the fire broke out, urging them to avoid the surrounding areas and give authorities the ability to save the cherished landmark.
Though a number of students still decided to watch the fire in-person, others, such as LS first-year Sara Armstrong, kept a distance.
“I saw the smoke, [it] was huge; it was covering the air,” she said, subsequently taking a train back to her dorm from a park where she had been picnicking. “I got on the train and the flame grew huge. It was so scary. Everyone on the train was looking out. It was heart-breaking.”
After leaving, she continued to watch a broadcast of the blazing fire, shocked at its hours-long continuation. According to firefighters, the next hour and a half will be crucial in determining the extent of the damage done to the 13th-century cathedral. In a silent, teary haze, onlookers wished for the best.
“It’s history burning down,” Armstrong said.
Email Jemima McEvoy at [email protected].