Time-lapse shots of Notre-Dame spire may yield clues on blaze

PARIS, April 18 (Reuters) - A time-lapse camera installed just hours before Monday's devastating blaze at Notre-Dame de Paris may contain vital clues as to what caused the inferno, a French scaffolding company working at the cathedral said on Thursday.

Europe Echafaudage was one of five companies contracted to restore Notre-Dame's spire. The 90-meter (275-foot) collapsed in the blaze, crashing through the cathedral's vaulted ceiling.

Footage from the camera, which was placed on the northern belltower and is now in the hands of investigators, shows the first smoke coming out of the spire's base, Marc Eskenazi, a representative for Europe Echafaudage told Reuters.

"Shots were taken every 10 minutes starting from Monday at 2 p.m.," Eskenazi said. "Smoke can be seen on these images. It starts on the south side" he said.

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Massive fire damages Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
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Massive fire damages Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
Smoke rises around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral as a fire continues to burn in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
Smoke rises around the alter in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral as a fire continues to burn in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Sparks fill the air as Paris fire brigade members spray water to extinguish flames as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. Picture taken April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Flames and smoke are seen as the interior continues to burn inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
General view from the entrance shows smoke rising around the altar in front of the cross inside the Notre Dame Cathedral as a fire continues to burn in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Flames and smoke are seen as the interior continues to burn inside the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
Firefighters douse flames from the burning Notre Dame Cathedral as people look on in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Firefighters douse flames from the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Fire fighters douse flames of the burning Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by Pierre Galey / AFP) (Photo credit should read PIERRE GALEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said.Images posted on social media showed flames and huge clouds of smoke billowing above the roof of the gothic cathedral, the most visited historic monument in Europe. (Photo by Pierre Galey / AFP) (Photo credit should read PIERRE GALEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Norte Dame reportedly on fire now, Paris: Via @almacy https://t.co/G1FwAvOVGD
Notre Dame, Paris, is on fire and it feels like the end of the world. https://t.co/qYYk7ewipq
Smoke billows as flames destroy the roof of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year, where renovations are currently underway. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 15, 2019: Notre-Dame de Paris, a Catholic cathedral founded in the 11th century, has caught fire. Stoyan Vassev/TASS (Photo by Stoyan Vassev\TASS via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - A fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Flames burn the roof of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. - A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year, where renovations are currently underway. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Plumes of smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. - A major fire broke out at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky, the fire service said. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year, where renovations are currently underway. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Seen from across the Seine River, smoke and flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
A still image taken from a video shows flames and thick smoke billowing from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
Smoke billows from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Carriat
Smoke billows from Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A still image taken from a video shows flames and thick smoke billowing from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
A view shows scaffolding around the spire of Notre-Dame cathedral during restoration work in Paris, France, April 11, 2019. Picture taken April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
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So far the authorities have said the fire appears accidental, although they have not ruled out arson. Police sources say an electrical fault is one possibility.

The office of Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz did not respond to a request for comment on the images.

Investigators have been able to access some areas of Notre-Dame, including its two bell towers, though parts of the historic nave remained too dangerous to enter more than 72 hours after the fire.

The damage to one of France's best-loved monuments prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and urgent calls for the authorities to find out what caused the fire.

Scaffolding specialist Europe Echafaudage, a unit of Le Bras Freres, a family-owned business of 140 employees based in Lorraine in eastern France, had almost finished erecting the scaffolding around the spire, 14 months after starting.

The company's 12-strong team was the only one working on site on the day of the blaze.

Europe Echafaudage, and a second company involved in the project, Pro Tech Foudre, have said they followed strict safety procedures.

Pro Tech Foudre, which was to start work removing the lightning rod that ran down from the spire's top, described Europe Echafaudage as a reputable company with a strong safety record and experience working on prestigious sites, including the Pantheon and Louvre museum in Paris.

"These are very serious people. They go beyond the architects' demands. When they're asked for a Porsche, they deliver a Rolls," said Anthony Dupuy, manager of Pro Tech Foudre.

"There are other companies for which I'd have said they were asking for it, but not this one."

Dupuy, who was involved in work to Notre-Dame in 2013, said safety regulations were very strict at the centuries-old site, with a focus on fire prevention. All extension chords had to be unplugged every night and smoking was not allowed anywhere.

 

TWO ALARMS

The scaffolders started leaving work at 5:20 p.m. on Monday evening and by 5:50 p.m. - half an hour before the first alarm sounded - all were gone, Eskenazi said.

"The procedure says that at the end of the day, electricity on the site is turned off. So we turn off the lifts and the scaffolding's lights, and we hand over the keys to the sacristy's concierge," he said.

"That's exactly what the workers did. They followed the procedure, and it was of course duly noted in the registers at the sacristy."

There was no welding machine or blowtorch on the site, he added.

Police sources confirmed no welding was being done at this stage to the site.

The outside scaffolding had no sprinkler system, but was equipped with movement detectors which did not go off, Eskenazi said. The alarms that activated were the cathedral's own, he added. That may also yield clues as to where the fire started.

Investigators are trying to understand why the fire was not detected when the first alarm rang at 6:20 p.m., prosecutor Heitz has said. A second alarm sounded at 6:43 p.m., at which point the fire was detected in the roof.

An hour later, the spire, engulfed in flames, collapsed to the gasps of hundreds of dumbstruck onlookers.

André Finot, Notre-Dame's spokesman said, there were "smoke detectors everywhere" that were connected to the cathedral's safety HQ at the presbytery, where a firefighter is posted 24 hours a day.

"If something goes off, there is an agent inside the cathedral who can go make checks," Finot said. He said he was not able to comment on the checks that were carried out after the first alarm sounded.

If indeed the fire was not arson, an electrical source would almost certainly be to blame, one police source said.

"If it's an accident, there's a 90 percent chance it came from an electric source, the police source said. "It was the only source of energy in the building."

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Michel Rose Editing by Richard Lough and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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