Fire prevention advice for churches

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Following the Notre Dame tragedy, useful advice on fire prevention from Historic England.

The National Churches Trust extends its deepest sympathy to the people of Paris following the tragic fire which has partially destroyed the Cathedral of Notre Dame. 

In the immediate aftermath of the inferno, it is too early to tell what the structural condition of the building is. Yet, already plans are being made to rebuild this magnificent building.

Fire prevention advice

For anyone who looks after a church building today, Historic England offer useful advice on fire prevention. They say that church buildings of traditional construction usually have a low fire risk and do not have a history of injuries and deaths caused by fire. However arson attacks and accidental fires do occur and when churches are unoccupied there is a potential for serious fires to develop. Incidents of arson attacks whilst the church is occupied, whilst rare, have also been known to take place.

Its guide is intended for churches with congregations of up to 300, to help decide if any fire safety improvements are necessary to protect them, and what improvements can be made to give added protection to the building.

Fire Safety for Traditional Church Buildings

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral is certainly not the first to have devastated by fire.

As the Washington Post reports, the cathedral at Canterbury in England caught fire in 1174 when a nearby house fire spread. In Mainz, Germany, the candles used to illuminate the city’s new cathedral accidentally brought the structure to the ground on the very day of its consecration in 1015. The cathedral at Chartres was heavily damaged by fire in 1194.

London and York

The Great Fire of London destroyed over 13,000 houses, almost 90 churches and the mighty St Paul's Cathedral.  The gothic building was rebuilt and Wren’s Baroque style cathedral is now regarded as Wren's masterpiece.

More recently, in 1984, York's divisional fire commander was fast asleep when the phone rang in the early hours of 9 July. But within minutes, Alan Stow was fighting to save York Minster, the city's most significant building from destruction. A lightning bolt at set fire to its south transept - destroying its roof and causing £2.25m worth of damage.