FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — As soon as the former Sexton of the Notre Dame Church in Fall River saw what was happening in Paris on Monday, he said he couldn’t help but remember the fire that destroyed their own church nearly 40 years ago.
“It’s something you don’t forget,” Roland Masse said, sitting outside the newly rebuilt church. “It becomes part of your living history, the fire in Paris brought it all back intensely to me, it was the same kind of fire.”
Masse said he was the first one in and the last one out of the church six days of the week and was inside the building when it caught fire back on May 11, 1982.
“It was the same thing,” he recalled. “It brought tears to our eyes. You remember what happened here is what’s happening right now in Paris.”
The church was undergoing renovations at the time, just like the historic Notre Dame was in Paris. Masse said he tried to extinguish the fire himself with some of the construction workers but the smoke was already too thick and they had to evacuate.
“There’s nothing you can do, you just stand there and look at it and say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this,'” Masse said.
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After Masse had already escaped the building, now-retired Fall River Fire Capt. Edward Walsh ran in and tried to keep the flames from spreading. Walsh said he too had to leave the building due to the intensity of the fire.
“I can’t imagine what those firefighters were going through,” Walsh said of the Paris fire. “It had to be similar to what our guys went through at the time.”
The fire at the Notre Dame in Fall River eventually spread across the street, not only burning through the church but also local homes and businesses.
“We never got control of it,” Walsh recalled.
Masse has visited the Paris cathedral three times and said he’s hopeful they can rebuild, just like they did in Fall River.
“It’s a treasure,” Masse added. “You can’t lose that treasure if you can save it, and it looks like they can save it.”
The church in Fall River, renamed St. Bernadette’s Parish when it merged with Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in 2012, closed down due to low attendance last August.