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Witnessing a fiery chapter of history

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As Don Stuber and Susan Benner appraised the long line to get into the Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, the Snowmass Village couple decided to walk the gardens, have dinner and come back to view the interior when the crowds had thinned.

Not long after walking away from the UNESCO World Heritage Site, their dinner hosts switched on the news: Notre-Dame was on fire.

Stuber, an artist and carpenter, and Benner, a local writer, watched on TV as the roof and spire burned. Stuber is a former freelance journalist, having contributed to Time and Esquire, and his reportorial instincts kicked in. The couple returned to the scene that night, and Stuber used his phone to record haunting video of hundreds of Parisians ­singing hymns to the Virgin Mary and the smoldering Notre-Dame.

“It was very somber,” he said.

Around 6:30 a.m. the next day, Stuber was back with two cameras and a telephoto lens, photographing the aftermath of the historic event. He shot hundreds of photos in the next few days: of the small boat housing huge hoses through which firefighters drew water from the Seine River to fight the blaze, of giant wooden beams being installed to mitigate structural collapse, of artists and writers on the riverbank capturing the scene in paint and ink, of teary residents simply staring up at Notre-Dame.

Arriving early allowed him more access before police cordons grew, and Stuber shot, among other things, once-bright pink blossoms that the heat had quickly browned; the space where the devastated, lead-filled roof once existed; and the stunningly quick steps engineers and firefighters took.

“I kept going back every day and documenting the progress they made,” Stuber said, noting fire crews carefully modulating the pressure of the water they were using to avoid further damaging the cathedral infrastructure.

Stuber said he was compelled to capture the partial destruction of a structure that dates to the 12th century, hosted the coronation of Napoleon, and fascinated Victor Hugo.

“I had a responsibility,” he said of documenting the aftermath. “I was immediately struck by the significance of this. It was a sense of being a part of history.”

What follows is a sample of that documentation.

Notre Dame Shortly Before the Fire 4-15-19

Notre-Dame de Paris as seen from the Seine River just before the April 15 fire ignited at the iconic site.

Notre Dame Reinforcement, Protection, Roof Cover 4-28-19

After the fire, massive wooden beams, tarps and other mitigation efforts were employed to protect the iconic site.

Notre Dame Boom Fire Spray at South Rose Window 4-16-19

Fire crews carefully modulated the pressure of the water they were using to avoid further damaging the cathedral infrastructure.

Notre Dame Crowd 1, 4-16-19

Residents and visitors alike gathered the next morning to appraise the damage.


Notre Dame Fire Boat Pumping From the Seine 4-16-19

Huge hoses on a fire department boat pulled water from the Seine during the blaze.


Notre Dame Firemen (Sapeurs-Pompiers) 4-16-19

Firefighters near the cathedral on the day after the fire.


Notre Dame Firemen and Hoses 4-16-19

Firefighters used massive hoses leading from the Seine River to fight the Notre-Dame blaze.


Notre Dame South Window Tower 4-16-19

Damage from the blaze is visible on Notre-Dame’s south window tower near extensive scaffolding, part of a renovation at the time.

Notre Dame New Tmber Framing at Roof Gable End Between Towers 4-28-19

New timber framing can be seen as engineers scrambled to prevent the fabled structure’s collapse.

Chad is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at or on Twitter @chad_the_scribe.