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Fire guts Paris' Notre-Dame, but structure saved from destruction

By Sybille de la Hamaide

A massive fire consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, gutting and destroying the roof of the Paris landmark and stunning France and the world, but firefighters said they had saved the shell of the stone structure from collapse.

Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.

As it burned into the evening, firefighters battled to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing. One firefighter was seriously injured - the only reported casualty.

"We now believe that the two towers of Notre-Dame have been saved," Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters at the scene. "We now consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved."

There was still a risk that some of the interior structures could collapse, and firefighters would work overnight to cool them down, he said.

Distraught Parisians and stunned tourists gazed in disbelief as the inferno raged at the cathedral, which sits on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine and marks the very centre of Paris.

Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon.

World leaders expressed shock and sent condolences to the French people. President Emmanuel Macron said the whole nation was distressed. "Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn," he tweeted.

A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. People watching gasped as the spire folded over onto itself and fell into the inferno.

Firefighters battled smoke and falling drops of molten lead to salvage priceless artworks and relics.

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris following a fire which destroyed much of the building on Monday evening. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Smoke is seen around the alter inside Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (Philippe Wojazer/Pool via AP)
The steeple of the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral collapses as the cathedral is engulfed in flames in central Paris on April 15, 2019. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
An aerial view of the fire raging at Notre Dame Cathedral. (Photo by - / AFP)-/AFP/Getty Images
Firemen inspect the Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Experts are assessing the blackened shell of Paris' iconic Notre Dame cathedral to establish next steps to save what remains after a devastating fire destroyed much of the almost 900-year-old building. With the fire that broke out Monday evening and quickly consumed the cathedral now under control, attention is turning to ensuring the structural integrity of the remaining building. (AP Photo/Christophe Enaa)
Flames and smoke are seen as the interior of the Notre-Dame Cathedral continues to burn on April 15, 2019, in the French capital Paris. - A huge fire swept through the roof of the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019, sending flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the sky. The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the gothic cathedral, visited by millions of people a year. A spokesman for the cathedral told AFP that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze. (Photo by PHILIPPE WOJAZER / POOL / AFP)PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
Flames rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People pray as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Flames illuminate the night sky as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Firefighters tackle the blaze as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Firefighters use hoses as Notre Dame cathedral burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A fire fighter uses a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
File photo dated 01/03/15 of the North Rose stained glass window at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, which is feared to have been destroyed by fire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire
A fire fighter gestures as a hose as Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People watch Notre Dame cathedral burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
People watch Notre Dame cathedral burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A fire fighter tackles the blaze as flames and smoke rise while Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
A fire fighter tackles the blaze as flames and smoke rise while Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. A catastrophic 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. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
People watch as flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral as it burns in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
(Lori Hinant/AP)
(AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Lori Hinant/AP)
Thibault Camus/AP)
(Lori Hinnant/AP)
(Thibault Camus/AP)
(Michel Euler/AP)
Firefighters tackle the blaze at Notre Dame (Francois Mori/AP)
Smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Photo credit: Ashley Huntington/Mercedes Girona/PA Wire
Handout photo taken with permission from the twitter feed of @slopezserra of smoke pouring from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which is on fire. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: @slopezserra/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Handout video grab taken from the Twitter feed of @leistomania93 of smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday April 15, 2019. See PA story FIRE NotreDame. Photo credit should read: @leistomania93/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. - (Photo by Pierre Galey / AFP)PIERRE GALEY/AFP/Getty Images
The steeple collapses as smoke and flames engulf the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019. Photo by Geoffroy VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images
Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame Cathedral (Michel Euler/AP)
Firefighters tackle the blaze at Notre Dame (Thibault Camus/AP)
Crowds watch from a safe distance (Thibault Camus/AP)
Smoke billows from Notre Dame Cathedral (Lori Hinnant/AP)
Notre Dame Cathedral by the River Seine (Mike Egerton/PA)
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (David Davies/PA)

A centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France, were saved, Notre-Dame's top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said. But firefighters had struggled to take down some of the large paintings in time, he said.

The Paris prosecutor's office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said that they were working on the assumption for now that it was accidental.

"Everything is collapsing," a police officer near the scene said as the cathedral continued to burn.

Macron, who cancelled an address to the nation that he had been due to give on Monday evening, went to the scene of the blaze and talked to officials trying to contain it.

The French Civil Security service, possibly responding to U.S. President Donald Trump's suggestion that firefighters "act quickly" and employ flying water tankers, said that was not an option as it might destroy the entire building.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the cathedral a "symbol of France and our European culture". British Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with the French people and emergency services fighting the "terrible blaze"

The Vatican said the fire at the "symbol of Christianity in France and in the world" had caused shock and sadness and said it was praying for the firefighters.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said at the scene that some of many artworks that were in the cathedral had been taken out and were being put in safe storage.

The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo's classic novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame". It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.

It is a focal point for French Roman Catholics who like Christians around the world are celebrating Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The archbishop of Paris called on all priests in Paris to ring church bells as a gesture of solidarity for Notre-Dame.

"I have a lot of friends who live abroad and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame," said witness Samantha Silva, with tears in her eyes.

"I've visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It's a real symbol of Paris."

The cathedral was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding, and bronze statues were removed last week for works.

Built over a century starting in 1163, Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture.

It is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.

Its 100-metre-long (330-foot) roof, of which a large section was consumed in the first hour of the blaze, was one of the oldest such structures in Paris, according to the cathedral’s website.

A centre of Roman Catholic faith, over the centuries Notre-Dame has also been a target of political upheaval.

It was ransacked by rioting Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaged again during the French Revolution of the 1790s and left in a state of semi-neglect. Hugo’s 1831 work led to revived interest in the cathedral and a major – partly botched – restoration that began in 1844.

The wood-and-lead spire was built during that restoration, according to the cathedral's website.

"Notre-Dame belonged to all humanity. What a tragic spectacle," tweeted Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union's executive Commission.

"What horror. I share the French nation's sadness."

Reuters

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