When a fire strikes libraries or archives, physical deterioration of the paper is so severe that its chemical properties are often regarded as less important. However, knowledge of the chemical changes of the papers upon nearly burning is necessary to design a subsequent conservation treatment. In the present study, we have examined a rag paper object, which partially survived a fire, and analysed its chemical properties by various methods. The polymeric state of cellulose, as well as its low-molar mass degradation products, were assessed. Comparison to an identical, unharmed duplicate provided a more profound understanding of the changes caused by the fire. Light scattering analysis revealed conformational changes of the cellulose molecule after high-temperature impact, and a chemical cross-linking was observed. In our study, we found the integrity of cellulose to depend on the temperature profile induced by the fire. The low thermal conductivity of cellulose protects the material even in close proximity to the burned edges.