Notre Dame Cathedral’s huge wooden rafters were probably engulfed by flames before the roof collapsed onto the stone vaults below, historical novelist Ken Follett has said.
The building’s spire and much of the roof were completely destroyed in the fire which continued to rage through Monday night.
Best-selling author Mr Follett, who has researched cathedrals extensively, told the Press Association: “The only thing that’s flammable in a cathedral is the rafters in the roof, but they are huge pieces of wood – tree trunks – and they are old and they are very dry.
“That’s what must have burned first, because nothing else in the structure is really flammable.
“When the roof timbers burn then the roof itself falls, it collapses without support.
“That then falls on the ceiling, which we should more properly call the vaulting.”
He added: “That vaulting is made of stone, but it’s very thin stone, mortared together, and when the debris from the roof falls, all of the vaulting collapses.”
Mr Follett, whose book The Pillars Of The Earth is about the construction of a cathedral, said the building has been “the centre of Paris” since it was built in 1163.
He described it as having a “place in the hearts of Parisians, French people and a lot of Europeans”.
The author expects the cathedral will be rebuilt, adding: “I imagine that the French will rebuild this cathedral and if there’s anything left they will incorporate what’s left.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking because they will rebuild it but you know you can go into a medieval cathedral and touch the stones and you know they have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Ben Derbyshire, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, described the blaze as a “tragedy”.
“The news of the tragedy this evening is of immeasurable significance worldwide,” he said.
“The loss of the roof and spire of Notre Dame, and possibly the stone vault too, is an irreplaceable blow to the heritage of French Gothic architecture.
“Our heart goes out to the people of France, and to lovers of our shared cultural heritage wherever they are.”
Picture: British bestselling author Ken Follett. (Susannah V. Vergau/DPA/PA).