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Following the devastating fire at Notre-Dame in Paris, how well prepared are cathedrals on this side of the Channel for a fire?

“Any fire in an historic building has the potential to be devastating,” said Becky Clark, the Church of England’s director of cathedrals and church buildings.

“The priority is always to prevent fire in the first place, by using professional buildings services specialists to carry out electrical and hot works [any works that could cause fire] and having regular inspections.”

Historic buildings have to be inspected regularly just like more modern structures.

Sprinkler systems may not be suitable because they tend to be set off by heat, and in cathedrals the ceiling would be so high up that, by the time the heat triggered the sprinklers, a fire would be out of control.

Some cathedrals use what is called a sniffer system, which is designed to detect smoke in the air at an early stage so that people can be evacuated from the building.

Martin Kealy, a fire consultant and managing director of MKA Fire, says that on the whole, such buildings pose a relatively low fire risk, because most of the materials at ground level are things like stone floors and very thick timber pews, which would not easily ignite.

Things like tapestries and artwork on the walls would burn faster, but they would be unlikely to set off the fabric of the building.

That is why a point of higher risk is when renovations are being carried out, which means additional combustible materials (such as the platforms on scaffolding) and more things that could start a fire are present, and the building’s fire protection systems may be temporarily offline or even removed.

People not buildings

But Mr Kealy stressed that existing regulations do not necessarily focus on the historic buildings themselves. Read more

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