A baffling alert. A race to the wrong building. Notre-Dame still stands only because firefighters decided to risk everything, a New York Times investigation has found.

The employee monitoring the smoke alarm panel at Notre Dame Cathedral was just three days on the job when the red warning light flashed on the evening of April 15: "Feu." Fire.

It was 6:18 on a Monday, the week before Easter. The Reverend Jean-Pierre Caveau was celebrating Mass before hundreds of worshippers and visitors, and the employee radioed a church guard who was standing just a few feet from the altar.

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