Notre Dame’s age, design fueled fire and foiled firefighters

  • French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron walk by Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.(Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

  • Flames illuminate the night sky as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

  • Smoke and flames fill the sky as a fire burns at the Notre Dame Cathedral during the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.(Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

  • Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

  • A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

NEW YORK — Is there anything firefighters could have done to control the blaze that tore through Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral sooner?

Experts say the combination of a structure that’s more than 850 years old, built with heavy timber construction and soaring open spaces, and lacking sophisticated fire-protection systems left firefighters with devastatingly few options Monday once the flames got out of control.

U.S. Fire Administrator G. Keith Bryant says that with a building like Notre Dame, it’s nearly impossible for firefighters to attack a blaze from within. Bryant says they instead have to be more defensive “and try to control the fire from the exterior.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Authorities say that the cathedral’s structure, including its landmark rectangular towers, has been saved. But its spire collapsed.

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Borenstein reported from Washington.

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Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Borenstein at twitter.com/borenbears

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