A teacher and 14 students from Hough High School in Cornelius had just toured Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, on Monday when they walked across the street to a cafe and soon saw smoke and flames from the medieval landmark.
“Notre dame is burning,” Tilly Boraks, a 17-year-old Hough High senior, texted her dad, David Boraks, about an hour after the fire started. “...But we are ok ... It’s horrible.”
The cathedral was the first attraction the group visited after landing in Paris for a Spring Break tour booked through a private international company that provides educational tours, David Boraks told The Charlotte Observer.
The students’ trip was independent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, CMS spokeswoman Yaviri Escalera said.
David Boraks had no idea where his daughter was when she suddenly texted him.
“...We were at a cafe across the street,” Tilly Boraks wrote. “...We were sitting outside and I saw smoke coming out around the steeple. And it just got worse and worse It’s the whole roof pretty much. It smells like sulfur, smoke is yellow.”
Tilly Boraks started texting her dad while she and the other students and their French teacher, Megan Ketchum, were safely back on the bus and returning to their hotel. The group waited about an hour for their bus to pick them up, David Boraks said.
“You are an eyewitness to a horrible historic event,” Boraks texted his daughter after she told him they were safe.
Boraks said his daughter has traveled both with her family and alone before, and he knew Ketchum would protect them in an emergency.
Firefighters extinguished the inferno after 12 hours the Associated Press reported. The fire destroyed the cathedral’s spire and roof; its bell towers and purported Crown of Christ were spared, according to the AP.
Boraks, a reporter and host for Charlotte public radio station WFAE and a former Charlotte Observer technology columnist and reporter, asked his daughter: What was it like to see the flames?
“Surreal!!” Tilly Boraks replied. “I was scared!! The kids were talking about how sad it was, some were really anxious.”
“And what were you scared of?” he asked.
“The possibility of it being a terrorist attack,” his daughter replied. “That was my main concern. Of course it’s tragic that all that history is gone but I’m glad that it wasn’t that.”
The cause was not immediately known, but Paris fire officials said the blaze could be linked to a $6.8 million renovation of the church’s spire and its 250 tons of lead, the AP reported.