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‘Gave me chills:’ Notre Dame, Milwaukee’s Trinity Lutheran, both burned during renovations

Michaela Shields

Michaela Shields

MILWAUKEE -- The flames at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday, April 15 were a familiar sight to many in Milwaukee. Trinity Lutheran Church caught fire on May 15, 2018. Both churches were being renovated at the time.

Nearly a year after the four-alarm blaze, there's still a lot of work to do at Trinity Lutheran Church, including replacing steel beams to begin the process of laying a new roof.

FOX6 News on Monday spoke with Michaela Shields, a junior at Marquette University, studying abroad. She took out her phone from afar and saw the roof collapse at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

"The sky was filled with this weird, green smoke, and there were crowds of people -- and the traffic was insane," said Shields. "It was insane. It was, really, I can only imagine what it was like for the actual Parisians who live there, and not just for an American student who has been there for three months."

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Fire at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Milwaukee

Christine Behnke

Christine Behnke

The flames were reminiscent of the billowing smoke in downtown Milwaukee as Trinity Lutheran Church near 9th and Highland burned.

"It gave me chills. It really just gave me chills," said Christine Behnke.

Behnke said the loss in Paris felt too familiar.

"Just such an amazing structure, and to see it burning in that way, my heart just ached for them," said Behnke.

Sean Slowey

Sean Slowey

The high ceilings make any church fire difficult, according to officials with the Milwaukee Fire Department.

"So if you can imagine, fighting the fire at Trinity would be difficult, if not impossible. Fighting it there would be even worse, because you'd never be able to reach the fire that's in the ceiling inside," said MFD Battalion Chief Sean Slowey.

Slowey said the Notre Dame Cathedral is nearly four times larger and a story higher than Trinity Lutheran Church.

"Their difficulties in putting that out were magnified five to 10 times compared to what we had here ,and this was a very difficult fire for us," said Slowey.

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

Adding to the difficulty was much thinner streets in Paris, where, in Milwaukee, firefighters had no problem pulling their engines up -- and Lake Michigan is a huge asset for firefighters here for water supply.

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

Notre Dame Cathedral fire

The Notre Dame Cathedral, situated on an island in the Seine River in the heart of Paris, is one of the world's most visited tourist destinations, drawing some 13 million people each year. The fire's emotional impact was widely felt.

"There were people singing and praying. It was really emotional, honestly," said Shields.

PHOTO GALLERY

Another similarity between the fire in Paris and the fire in Milwaukee is both Notre Dame Cathedral and Trinity Lutheran Church were being renovated at the time. French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is "potentially linked" to a 6 million-euro ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church's spire and its 250 tons of lead.

PHOTO GALLERY

MFD Chief Mark Rohlfing said the Trinity fire started on the roof -- which was under construction at the time.

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