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‘Most precious’ treasures saved after Notre Dame ravaged by fire

Investigators believe the fire started accidentally, as tributes poured in from world leaders.

Damage inside Notre Dame Cathedral (Christophe Petit Tesson/AP)
Damage inside Notre Dame Cathedral (Christophe Petit Tesson/AP)

Notre Dame’s “most precious” treasures have been saved after a catastrophic fire, as more than 600 million euro was pledged to help rebuild the cathedral.

Firefighters fully extinguished the blaze, which tore through the French landmark on Monday evening, as the nation woke up to the devastation of its cultural and historic “epicentre”.

Just under 400 firefighters worked for more than 12 hours through the night, battling to stop the complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground.

Two police officers and one firefighter were injured during the blaze, which saw teams battle to save the structure of the 850-year-old Gothic masterpiece.

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(PA Graphics)

Tourists, include some from France, along with Londoners and journalists gathered outside Westminster Abbey at 5.43pm – 24 hours after the fire started – after Prime Minister Theresa May said the bells would toll with others across the country on Maundy Thursday in solidarity.

Visitor Mike Denis, 34, from Normandy, who was on holiday with his wife and two young children, said: “France has built herself around the Notre Dame de Paris, and that’s why we’re here tonight.

“It’s a really kind thing, to do that. It’s empathetic. We appreciate all these things coming from around the world.”

Investigators believe the blaze was caused by accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place.

The tragedy has prompted an outpouring of support internationally, with the Queen saying she was “deeply saddened” and Pope Francis offering his prayers.

Millions of euro have also been pledged from French families and companies including Total and L’Oreal Group.

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Notre Dame Cathedral in 2017 and on Tuesday (PA)

French culture minister Franck Riester said some of the most valuable treasures were stored overnight in the Paris town hall and would be moved to the Louvre museum “as soon as possible”.

He said major paintings are not likely to be removed until Friday morning, adding: “They have not been damaged but there could be some damage from the smoke so we are going to take them safely and place them in the Louvre where they will be dehumidified and they will be protected, conserved and then restored.”

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The fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris’ soaring Notre Dame (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)

The fire, which broke out as the last crowds of tourists ended visits just before 6pm BST (7pm local time), was finally declared to be “fully extinguished” on Tuesday morning.

Fifty people are working on a “long” and “complex” investigation into the cause, Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz told reporters.

Investigators will interview workers from five companies hired to work on renovations to the cathedral roof.

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Firefighters stand at an entrance and look at the fire damage inside the cathedral (France Televisions via AP)
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Firefighters on top of Notre Dame’s bell towers (Victoria Jones/PA)

Speaking in front of the cathedral, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said: “The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn’t restart.

“The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist.”

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Paris’s fire brigade commander speaks to a French government minister outside Notre Dame (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP)

Gabriel Plus, a spokesman for Paris firefighters, said emergency services were currently “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smouldering residues”.

In a message to President Emmanuel Macron, the Queen said: “I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument.”

Mrs May said the images of destruction were “truly heart-rending”, adding:
“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world.

“As they prepare to embark on this daunting task, we stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

Scores of Parisians gathered on the banks of the Seine throughout Tuesday to survey the damage to their beloved landmark.

Ashes from the cathedral’s roof and spire blew across the banks of the river, along with blossom from Notre Dame’s gardens.

Daniel Etieve, 70, said: “It’s a very sad picture. For over 800 years this cathedral has been passed from generation to generation.

“Now I question what state we will pass it on to the generations after us.

A 55-year-old art historian, who gave his name as Fabrice, said it was “hard to believe that this is happening in Paris – part of ourselves has been destroyed”.

“I always go for a walk in this area every day and come to see Notre Dame. It’s like coming to visit an elderly parent.”

Hundreds of millions of euro have been pledged to rebuild the national monument, while Mr Macron said a national subscription would be launched when he visited the scene on Monday night.

French tycoon Bernard Arnault and his luxury goods group LVMH have pledged 200 million euro (£173 million) towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame, following a reported 100 million euro (£86 million) donation from another French billionaire, Francois Pinault.

Later on Tuesday, L’Oreal Group, the Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation jointly announced 200 million euro (£173 million) while oil and gas company Total said it was giving 100 million euro (£86 million) towards reconstructing the “architectural jewel”.

The UK ambassador to France, Ed Llewellyn, said the country stands ready to help with efforts to restore the building.

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk called on the EU’s member countries to help, saying the site in Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together.

Mr Tusk told representatives that the blaze reminds Europeans of “how much we can lose”.

PA

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