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Watching Notre Dame cathedral be engulfed in flames was 'devastating': Vancouver art dealer

Last Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 10:36 am PDT

Flames 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)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – While the world looked on as Paris’ famed Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed by flames on Monday, all Vancouver art dealer Matt Petley-Jones could think about was that beautiful artifacts and the structure of the church that’s stood tall over the French capital for more than 800 years.

“It was devastating,” he recalls. “There was so much history, and it was a great loss to society, really, and to Paris.”

The fire ripped through the roof of the cathedral, bringing it and its spire tumbling down. However, much of the structure and its treasures were saved — but there’s now a long road ahead when it comes to rebuilding.

Petley-Jones, who is the gallery director at the Petley-Jones Gallery in Vancouver, restores pieces locally. He can only imagine the challenges experts now face at Notre Dame.

“They can actually take out a section and replace a section, so that a lot of the, as much of the original building or structure can be retained. But, by the look of it, a lot of it might have to be replaced.”

Beyond the destruction caused by the fire, Petley-Jones imagines there’s also a lot of water damage, which will bring its own difficulties.

Among the items that survived the blaze was the Roman Catholic cathedral’s famous 18th century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes, after a plan to safeguard the masterpieces and relics was quickly put into action after the fire broke out Monday evening. Statues removed from the roof for restoration just days ago were also saved.

It’s unclear what caused the fire, but officials are considering it to be an accident and possibly linked to restoration work being performed on the landmark.

Experts prepare to lift a statue from the damaged Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral to establish next steps to save what remains after a devastating fire destroyed much of the almost 900-year-old building. With the fire that broke out Monday evening and quickly consumed the cathedral now under control, attention is turning to ensuring the structural integrity of the remaining building. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Looking to the challenging road ahead, Petley-Jones says it starts with assessing exactly what kind of damage has been done to each piece of art individually.

“Many of the works are gold-leafed, which [is] water soluble, which would be damaged not only by the fire but also by the firemen — nothing to be done about that,” he explains.

Petley-Jones adds work will have to be detailed, with those performing the restoration having to try to “remove the excess dirt and then getting down to the level of the original item — because they’re going to be covered in all kinds of things. It’s a monumental task, actually.”

Much of the saved art is going to the Louvre for restoration and storage.

The Notre Dame Cathedral was immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and has been a beloved national treasure in France that drew locals and tourists from around the world each day.

As the country mourns the destruction to the church, words of sympathy and even offers of help to rebuild have been pouring in from around the world.

File Photo: Firefighters tackled the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral while it burned in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke filled the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is fell on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Meantime, some of Frances’s richest people have already pooled 400-million Euros for reconstruction efforts with other offers of help and funding promised.

It could take decades to fully rebuild and restore the cathedral.

While much of the building remains intact, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has said the structure is “under permanent surveillance because it can still budge.”

Petley-Jones admits saving it will be another massive challenge.

“I know that I’ve seen restorations before that in Europe they’re amazing at replacing sections of, for instance, timbers that are maybe damaged to rot or through fire, and they can actually take out a section and replace a section, so that as much of the original building or structure can be retained,” he explains. “But, by the look of it, a lot of it might have to be replaced.”

Interestingly, the roof of Notre Dame can never be rebuilt as it was; the forest’s-worth of ancient oak trees the massive beams came from simply don’t exist anymore, and there are none that size that grow in France, currently.

People in Vancouver express grief over Notre Dame fire

While the fire burned a half a world away, people living in Vancouver are expressing their support.

On Monday, the bells at the Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver rang out in solidarity with the Catholic community in Paris. The bells rang from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Tony spoke with Breakfast Television before mass on Tuesday, saying he and his family were just at Notre Dame Cathedral last year.

“I was devastated because we were very blessed that we were there last year, in January of 2018,” he said. “I t was really sad, you know? That the very monumental and memorable building is now in ashes.”

WATCH: People in Vancouver express grief over Notre Dame fire

Pastor Stanley Galvon visited the cathedral just this past Februray.

“Spent some time in prayer there,” he said. “It just struck me as being the soul of Paris that’s seen so many joys and sorrows over the centuries.”

-With files from Breakfast Television and Martin MacMahon