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No structural damage to Grotto after July fire

Amanda Gray | Friday, August 20, 2010

 The Grotto is now back to normal after the campus landmark caught fire at the end of July.

A fire started at the shrine July 26 just before the evening rosary, said Fr. Anthony Szakaly, assistant provincial and steward for the Congregation of Holy Cross priests in the Indiana chapter. The group maintains the Grotto. 
The Grotto was closed for just over two weeks following the fire and has since reopened.
Szakaly said the fire began by accident when the candles in its back, left corner combusted. 
“It was a warm, humid day with very little breeze,” he said. “There were a large number of candles lit for a summer day.”
Szakaly said wooden sticks used to light candles may have also been left accidentally in the candles. There was no structural damage to the Grotto, but some rearranging has taken place.
“There is no rack in the back corner,” Szakaly said. “The top tiers of the racks have also been removed, so flames aren’t as close to the ceiling. The racks are arranged differently.”
Szakaly said candles will now be in glass containers, as opposed to the plastic containers.
“We’re looking at what that’s going to mean [in terms of cost],” Szakaly said. 
The Grotto reopened on August 13 after rigorous cleaning.
“The fire was so hot … the granite flaked, almost like peeling an onion,” he said.
“Workers had to go through the entire Grotto and break off the small pieces.”
Szakaly said the fire was not as damaging as the fire in 1985 during the Michigan State football game. These two fires are the only fires in the Grotto’s recent history, according to Office of Public Information and Communication.
The Grotto is a one-seventh scale of the original Grotto in Lourdes, France, constructed on campus in 1896, according to a University website dedicated to the landmark.
“People need to be aware that those lit candles are fire, and anytime we’re dealing with fire we have to be careful,” he said.
Szakaly said he was most touched by the outpouring of concern for the condition of the Grotto by members of the Notre Dame community. He said the Grotto acts as a place for spirituality, God and prayer.
“It shows how important the Grotto is,” he said.