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Reflections On Notre Dame Fire Turn To Concerns For San Fernando Cathedral

Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
San Fernando Cathedral

San Antonio religious leaders and firefighters reflected on the massive fire at the Notre Dame cathedral on Monday. But they also considered the vulnerability of San Antonio's historic structures.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said Monday that he mourned the Notre Dame cathedral fire because it's an icon of France and the Catholic church. He asked for Catholics in San Antonio to pray for first-responders and for Paris.

"So we in the Archdiocese of San Antonio ... [it's] very appropriate for us to join in prayer," he said Monday.

Garcia-Siller said he visited Notre Dame once, and he remembered most fondly the beautiful stained glass windows. He added that the cathedral is too much of a symbol not to be rebuilt.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood reflected on the fire as a situation that might overwhelm professional first-responders.

He said when symbolic buildings burn firefighters must not let their emotions lead them to take extra chances with their lives.

He says Gothic style structures pose unique dangers to the firefighter. "They have big parapets," he said. "They have steeples, bells, a lot of things that when they catch on fire, they will collapse, fall on firefighters and injure them."

Hood said the fire reminded him of the blaze at the main building at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in May 2008, the largest Gothic structure fire west of the Mississippi at the time. The building was fully restored over a period of three years.

Catholic Rector Victor Valdez cares for his own symbolic and historic building: San Antonio's San Fernando Cathedral.

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
The cathedral's interior

Its bells ring out over at least 100 weddings and an equal number of funerals every year. Masses attract 5,000 parishioners a week. It’s home to one of the oldest continuously-functioning religious communities in Texas. The Texas State Historical Commission says the cathedral was completed in 1755 under the direction of the Spanish viceroy.

Valdez said San Fernando is not protected by a fire sprinkler system: “As old as the cathedral is, it’s not. ..."

San Fernando is smaller than Notre Dame but also includes the same tinder-box features, including high, well-ventilated ceilings and vintage wood.

Valdez says there are precautions in place to prevent fire, including a well-trained staff to care for worshipers.

“We do have fire extinguishers, and we have that preparation for evacuation,” he added.

Valdez says the church is also located in the center of busy downtown and could rely on a nearby fire station to fight any blaze.

The cathedral experienced a fire in 1828, and it was not fully restored until 1830.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian