Custodians of New Zealand churches and precious museum objects, speaking in the aftermath of the Notre Dame cathedral catastrophe in Paris, say they have detailed fire protection plans.

In Paris, a human chain formed to rescue religious relics from the church, including an item said to have been part of Christ's crown of thorns.

Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, which holds irreplaceable objects such moa eggs and feathers, stores items at three separate sites, partly to reduce the risk of loss from fire or other disaster.

However, communications manager Kate Camp said that as a modern building Te Papa was not comparable to Notre Dame, which is more than 850 years old, and she indicated it was unlikely there would be lessons for the museum to learn from the cathedral disaster.

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A priceless, irreplaceable moa egg. Te Papa says it has comprehensive systems to protect its precious objects in the event fire. Photo / Te Papa
A priceless, irreplaceable moa egg. Te Papa says it has comprehensive systems to protect its precious objects in the event fire. Photo / Te Papa

Te Papa, on the Wellington waterfront, had state-of-the-art fire-suppression systems and complied with modern fire regulations, Camp said.

"Our building was purpose built to house precious objects, and to have a lot of people in it."

She said it was hard to evaluate which were the museum's most precious objects and it had refused to make public the insurance-based monetary valuations of its items.

Asked to name some of the precious items held by the museum, she highlighted eggs and feathers of the extinct moa, and a self-portrait of New Zealand painter Rita Angus.

Dame Lyndsay Freer, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Auckland, said most of its churches and halls, including St Patrick's Cathedral, had smoke alarms.

"The Notre Dame fire was triggered, it seems, by refurbishment work and we are always aware of the risk of fire when such work is taking place, especially when chemical compounds are present or power tools are being used.

"One difference for us is that no church or building in New Zealand would have 800-year old tinder-dry wooden beams like those that helped fuel the fire at Notre Dame.

"Eight hundred years of tinder-dry timbers and the build up of dust and debris is very risky. Our St Patrick's Cathedral and St Benedict's Church, both in the Auckland CBD, have had significant, very successful refurbishments completed."

Architect Richard McGowan, a heritage restoration specialist, said the Notre Dame fire was a disturbing reminder of how vulnerable most important cultural artefacts were. It was something New Zealand and other countries should prepare for.

"A building like Notre Dame is a powerful symbol of identity for Parisians and implicitly important to its population, irrespective of its religious significance to its owners or its congregation," said McGowan, of Warren and Mahoney, which has led heritage projects, including the post-earthquake restoration of the Christchurch Town Hall.

People would take the loss of such buildings as Notre Dame extremely personally, as an historic building could shape how individuals thought and felt about where they lived – their sense of place, he said.

"Stabilisation, repair and restoration of the cathedral will be achievable – however it will be a long and challenging road ahead.

"However, based on our own experience in New Zealand with the rebuild process in Christchurch, the eight-year project to repair and restore the Christchurch Town Hall is one which demonstrates the value in heritage restoration to preserve a city's future cultural artefacts."