By PHILIP MARCELO Associated Press
BOSTON — For Fall River resident Roland Masse, the images of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burning Monday brought immediate flashbacks to an eerily similar church inferno he escaped decades ago.
The fire at the Notre Dame de Lourdes in Fall River happened May 11, 1982, as the church, which was designed to echo the Parisian landmark and served the city’s once sizeable French-Canadian community, had been undergoing a $1 million renovation.
Workers soldering on the roof accidentally ignited dry timbers and the fire spread rapidly, Masse, the church’s sexton at the time, recalled Tuesday. Within an hour, both of the church’s more than 200-foot bell towers were engulfed in flames.
Workers and a class of grade school students practicing for their First Communion ceremony were evacuated as firefighters quickly realized they were unable to salvage the structure, Masse said.
“I was reliving the whole thing. It was just like it happened to us,” said the 73-year-old of the Paris fire, which officials have said was likely related to a $6.8 million renovation project on the building’s roof. “A big stone church set fire by outside work, the high winds, everything. I can’t believe it. It’s heartbreaking. I know what we went through, and it was a great loss. You just shake your head.”
The Fall River fire didn’t just level the church. The gusty conditions quickly swept the flames into the neighborhood.
Some 27 homes and businesses across five city blocks were damaged, according to news reports at the time. Residents fled with what belongings they could grab.