Notre-Dame Bees: Fire Survivors on the Roof

An increasing number of beekeepers are siting hives in city locations to make use of nearby parks. Paris has rooftop hives on the Musée d’Orsay, the École Militaire, the Grand Palais, and the Institut de France – and on Notre Dame cathedral. Incredibly, despite the recent fire that ravaged most of the 850-year old roof, the bees survived. By James Teo.


Paris, 1 May 2019. Since 2013, a flat portion of the roof of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has been home to three beehives managed by Beeopic, a French company that specialises in urban beekeeping. The man behind the company, Nicolas Geant, has been tending up to 60,000 bees in each hive for the last six years. On April 15, he was told about the fire sweeping through the 850-year old timbers supporting the cathedral roof. Right where his beehives were.

Nicolas Geant has tended bees on Notre Dame’s roof for six years. Courtesy Beeopic.

Nicolas Geant has tended bees on Notre Dame’s roof for six years. Courtesy Beeopic.

The fire, started following a short circuit in electrics being upgraded as part of a restoration project, burned intensely with temperatures up to 1400deg C. It burned that hot for about four hours before the fire was put out. The chances of the insects surviving seemed slim.

Geant immediately stared scanning drone images and video of the roof posted online, to see if he could see anything of their fate. Incredibly, several images showed the hives were still there, intact on the roof of the sacristy.

“The hives were not touched by the blaze because they are located about 30 meters below the main roof where the fire spread,” he said in an interview with CNN, adding that there was no way they could have survived if they had been on the main section of the roof that was completely gutted by the flames.

Geant spotted the untouched hives on the roof in this drone shot. Courtesy Beeopic.

Geant spotted the untouched hives on the roof in this drone shot. Courtesy Beeopic.

"If they had they been (nearer the main fire) the hives wouldn't have survived," said Geant, adding that the fact the hives are made of wood, and contain lots of inflammable beeswax would have sealed the hives’ fate if the fire – or even severe heat – had spread to their section of roof.

But there was initially no knowing if the flames and smoke had impacted the bees inside the hives. Only firemen and women were allowed up on the roof, and as Geant said, “… 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.”

Then, incredibly, he took a call from a spokesman from Notre Dame, who said that ínspection and repair workers on the roof had seen bees flying in and out of the hives - which meant that at least some were still alive. Geant was “overjoyed” at the news of the bees’ near-death survival, and posted a video on Instagram of bees flying in and out of their hives a day or so after the fire.

The beekeeper points out that the close shave was even more amazing given that even if the hives hadn’t burned, just the heat from the fire could have sealed their doom, literally. Beeswax melts at 63 deg C, so if the air around the hive had reached that temperature, the wax in the combs would have melted and glued the bees together, killing them all.

And they would unlikely have tried escaping a burning or melting hive, as bees don’t run from smoke like most other animals, they just cluster together and slow down, a little like drunks on a bender. Waiting for things to sober up.

"I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it's such a beautiful building. But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that's just wonderful,” said Geant. “I was overjoyed. Thank goodness the flames didn't touch them. It's a miracle!" Further investigation revealed that the bees are still happily buzzing in and out of the hives, apparently unscathed by their brush with the hellish inferno, as per the video posted on Instagram by Geant.

And if you think beekeeping on the roof of famous Paris landmarks is up your street, hopefully with no more fire events, then Beeopic is looking for an apprentice.

Heant says the person should be looking to keep bees in urban areas, be dynamic, motivated, and be happy to be paid in Euros, premiums, and restaurant tickets. Beginners accepted - training provided, he adds. Drop him a line on Contact@Beeopic.Com if you are keen to buzz off to Paris.