Firefighter draws similarities from St. Raphael and Notre Dame fires

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- As the world watched the Notre Dame cathedral burn in disbelief, Madison Fire Division Chief Tim Mrowiec relived his memories of fighting a church fire in his home town.

"It's probably one of the largest fires Madison has ever seen," Mrowiec said.

St. Raphael's was 150-years-old. Notre Dame was nearly 1000-years-old. There are clear differences in structure but one similarity is the amount of wood the structures contained.

"Even though they look like it's all stone, there is a lot of combustible materials in there. A lot of wood that has been there for centuries. Once it starts on fire, it's like an oven inside all that masonry," Mrowiec said.

On March 14, 2004, St. Raphael's Cathedral in downtown Madison was set on fire by a Madison man. The entire roof burned and caved in, but the steeple survived.

The Madison Fire Department responded in minutes, smoke was spreading throughout the structure quickly. Fire fighters tried knocking down the fire from within the building first, but fell short of accomplishing that goal.

"It was spreading too quickly. It was getting dangerous, so we pulled everyone out and started a more defensive route," Mrowiec said.

Mrowiec says their fire ladders reach 105 feet in the air. Their most powerful water hoses can hit 75 feet in the air. It still was a struggle for the crews to get St. Raphael's Cathedral fire under control. Mrowiec says it took the crew 12 hours to put the fire out.

Mrowiec feels for the 400 fire fighters in Paris that battled the Notre Dame fire for most of Monday and into early Tuesday.

"It's devastating. It's a beautiful church," Mrowiec said.

Madison Diocese statement:

the Diocese of Madison lost her Cathedral in 2005 to arson fire. The loss of a Cathedral Church is much more than the loss of a building, ours a 150 years old and Notre Dame 850, it is the loss of a home of the Catholic church in a diocese. It is the loss of a cultural and historical center of a community. Non-Catholics and non-Christians the world over visit beautiful Cathedrals. It affects the entire diocesan Church and affects the secular community as well. Paris will have a Cathedral again, by God’s grace, as will Madison.

Our prayer soon after the Cathedral fire in Madison in 2004, is easily adapted to be for Paris as well:

“Pray for the continued healing for the wounds caused by this destructive act; wisdom for the bishop and those charged with making important decisions regarding the future of the Cathedral Church; and for an increased spirit of generosity in the diocese, that all may see and support the Diocese of Madison’s need for a Mother Church, for the greater glory of God and for the service to His people.”