Time Magazine International Edition

Heroes

DEFENDERS OF NOTRE DAME

AS FLAMES LEAPED FROM the roof of Notre Dame cathedral on April 15, those who knew its innermost secrets ventured into the pitch darkness of the smoke-filled nave. Their aim: to rescue some of the most valuable treasures in all of Christianity. “There was no electricity, there was a lot of water, there were alarms going off,” says Antoine-Marie Préaut, conservator of historic monuments in the Paris region, remembering the moment he entered the cathedral with Notre Dame’s operational director, Laurent Prades, and a group of firefighters. “The atmosphere was apocalyptic.”

Millions across the world watched aghast as fire shot from the medieval masterpiece in the heart of Paris. Less visible was how close Notre Dame came to total collapse, and how narrowly its treasures were saved.

About 400 firefighters battled the flames for more than nine hours—some climbing the staircase in its north tower, despite the danger of being trapped, to keep the cathedral’s set of 13-ton bells from falling and potentially bringing down the towers and the entire cathedral with them. The roof was already almost gone. “I found a situation that was completely catastrophic,” says Jérôme D., a firefighter

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