Thousands of Parisians watched in horror from behind police cordons as a ferocious blaze devastated Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying its spire and a large part of the roof.
Firefighters battled to contain the fire, which began at around 6pm on Monday. An investigation has been opened by the prosecutor’s office, but police said it began accidentally and may be linked to building work at the cathedral. The 850-year-old gothic masterpiece had been undergoing restoration work.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, attended the scene and later gave a speech in which he vowed that the cathedral would be rebuilt, as fire crews said the landmark’s rectangular bell towers and structure of the building had been saved.
Macron said “the worst had been avoided” thanks to hundreds of brave firefighters who battled for hours and who would continue working through the night. One firefighter was severely injured but no other casualties were reported.
The 12th-century cathedral is home to priceless works of art and is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, immortalised in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It attracts about 13 million visitors a year from around the world.
“We consider the two towers of Notre Dame to have been saved,” the Paris fire-service commander Jean-Claude Galler said at around 11pm, as firefighters were still working to contain flames. The fire service said the fire had been reduced and it was a major accomplishment by hundreds of firefighters that the flames were stopped from spreading to the north tower belfry. However, the roof “had been ravaged”, with around two thirds destroyed.
Fire brigade officers, who were preparing to spend the night attempting to cool the building, said the structure of the cathedral was “saved and preserved”. A spokesman said there was still a risk that scaffolding in the heart of the building could collapse.
By 7pm, flames had burst through the roof of the cathedral and quickly engulfed the lead and wood structure of the cathedral’s spire, which collapsed.
The cathedral and surrounding buildings were evacuated and police closed several metro stations and cordoned off roads by the river.
At the same time as the fire broke out at Notre Dame a fire was also burning at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.
The mosque fire was much smaller than the Notre Dame blaze and seems to be under control. The Palestine News Agency, the official outlet of the Palestinian National Authority, reported “the fire broke out in the guard’s room outside the roof of the Marwani Prayer Room, and the fire brigade of the Islamic Waqf handled the matter successfully.”