KS connections in Paris shaken by fire to historic Notre Dame Cathedral

In more than 20 years living in Paris, Sean McGinnis -- who grew up in Hays -- has been in the city during big moments, some celebratory, some tragic.

Sean McGinnis

But he describes what he witnessed Monday evening as "unimaginable." Heading for 7:30 p.m. choir practice at a small church after his day at work, McGinnis says he saw a large plume of smoke behind the building.

"I thought, 'that's not a normal fire,'" he says.

Rounding the corner, he saw across the Seine River that an historic, iconic building recognized around the world was on fire. Smoke and flames billowed from the Notre Dame Cathedral as onlookers were left speechless.

"I just kind of stood there in disbelief," McGinnis says.

Standing about two football fields away from the fire, McGinnis began documenting what he witnessed.

"It was clear standing there that I was watching something historic," he says. "Not something that you want to see, but something that will mark people, at least French people I think forever."

McGinnis, who works in the fashion industry in Paris, says Notre Dame is the heart of the city. He spoke of the history behind the construction and events held within the walls of Notre Dame -- translated to "Our Lady" in English -- and became emotional as he touched on the "hundreds and hundreds of years of faith" that have been celebrated there.

Notre Dame recently celebrated its 850th birthday. And while the full extent of damage remains to be seen, there was a glimmer of hope Monday night in that firefighters spared the cathedral from destruction.

McGinnis says the fire left "nobody untouched."

"To see that burning is devastating," he says.

Wichitan Heather Dillon and her family visited Notre Dame hours before the fire, leaving Paris Monday morning. She too was shaken by what she later saw unfold online.

"I immediately felt nauseous and was trying to fight back the tears as I was watching it unfold," Dillon says.