180,000 Bees in Rooftop Beehives Survive Notre Dame Inferno

By Victor Westerkamp

The devastating flames that incinerated the Notre Dame rooftop in Paris last Monday, April 15, 2019, spared a colony of 180,000 bees that were kept close by.

Three beehives that were home to the bees were located on the rooftop of the Sacristy, a building adjacent to the Notre Dame cathedral, just 90 feet below the engulfing flames. Beekeeper Nicolas Geant confirmed to CNN that the bees survived.

Unharmed

“I got a call from Andre Finot, the spokesman for Notre Dame, who said there were bees flying in and out of the hives which means they are still alive!” Geant said. “Right after the fire I looked at the drone pictures and saw the hives weren’t burnt but there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived. Now I know there’s activity it’s a huge relief!”

The Notre Dame cathedral has housed three beehives since 2013 as part of a Paris-wide program to boost declining bee numbers, Geant told AP. The species of bee at Notre Dame, when confronted with excessive heat, “gorge themselves on honey” and would never have abandoned the hive or queen.

Notre Dame Bee
Bees fly next to beehives set up by French beekeeper Audric de Campeau on the roof the Monnaie de Paris in Paris on July 16, 2017, as the Notre-Dame Cathedral is pictured in the background. (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

“They weren’t in the middle of the fire, had they been, they wouldn’t have survived,” Geant said. “The hives are made of wood so they would have gone up in flames.” He continued: “Wax melts at 63 degrees if the hive had reached that temperature the wax would have melted and glued the bees together, they would have all perished.”

Even though the bees were exposed to excessive amounts of smoke, it would not affect them as much as humans, Geant explained.

“Bees don’t have lungs like us,” he said. “And secondly, for centuries to work with the bees we have used bee smokers.” A bee smoker is a box that creates a white, thick cold smoke that sedates the bees so the beekeeper can do his job unhindered, Geant explained.

The Investigation

Investigators speculate a short circuit may have sparked the Notre Dame fire. But while the bees are safe, Geant still cannot go inspect the site. Police said investigators were still not allowed inside the cathedral for safety reasons. The monument still needs to be reinforced with wooden beams to support some vulnerable parts of the building.

“I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it’s such a beautiful building, and as a Catholic, it means a lot to me. But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that’s just wonderful. I was overjoyed,” he added. “Thank goodness the flames didn’t touch them. It’s a miracle!” Geant told CNN.

Meanwhile, it has been estimated the reconstruction of Notre Dame’s roof will cost billions of dollars. The cost is expected to be largely paid by the French government, as well as private funding, which has already raised about $1 billion.