The Associated Press PARIS (AP) — A massive fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.
The blaze collapsed the cathedral’s spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers, but Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the church’s structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry. The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The exact cause of the blaze was not known, but French media quoted the Paris fire brigade as saying the fire is “potentially linked” to a €6 million ($6.8 million) renovation project on the church’s spire and its 250 tons of lead. The Paris prosecutors’ office ruled out arson and possible terror-related motives, and said it was treating it as an accident.
As the spire fell, the sky lit up orange and flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Hundreds of people lined up bridges around the island that houses the church, watching in shock as acrid smoke rose in plumes. Speaking alongside junior Interior minister Laurent Nunez late Monday, police chief Jean-Claude Gallet said “two thirds of the roofing has been ravaged.” Gallet said firefighters would keep working overnight to cool down the building.
French President Emmanuel Macron was treating the fire as a national emergency, rushing to the scene and straight into meetings at the Paris police headquarters nearby. He pledged to rebuild the church and said would seek international help to do so.
“The worse has been avoided although the battle is not yet totally won,” the president said, adding that he would launch a national funding campaign on Tuesday and call on the world’s “greatest talents” to help rebuild the monument.
Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, its architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.