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Monday, 15 April 2019

Notre Dame fire: Paris cathedral devastated by ferocious blaze Spire of centuries-old landmark destroyed after flames burst through the roof




Thousands of Parisians have watched in horror from behind police cordons as a ferocious blaze devastated the landmark Notre Dame Cathedral, destroying its spire and spreading to the historic bell towers.

Firefighters battled to contain the fire, which began at 5.50pm local time (16.50 GMT) on Monday, with police saying it began accidentally and may be linked to building work at the cathedral. The 850-year-old gothic masterpiece had been undergoing restoration work to help it better withstand the tests of time.

Flames burst through the roof of the cathedral – one of France’s most visited places – and quickly engulfed the spire, which collapsed. The spire was made of wood and lead and was built during a restoration in the mid-19th century.

A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. No deaths or injuries were initially reported.

Buildings around the cathedral were evacuated as the fire department launched a major operation. Police closed several metro stations and cordoned off roads by the river.

Late on Monday, the Paris prosecutors’ office said it had ruled out arson, adding that police would conduct an investigation into “involuntary destruction caused by fire”.

A cathedral spokesman said the entire wooden interior of the 12th-century landmark was burning and was likely to be destroyed, and the city’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Grégoire, said emergency services were trying to salvage artwork and other priceless items stored there.

“There are a lot of art works inside … it’s a real tragedy,” the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, told reporters at the scene.

On the left bank of the river Seine, thousands of people gathered to watch the fire as orange flames towered from the roof. Fire trucks could be seen speeding towards the scene on the Île de la Cité, the island where the cathedral is located.

Some in the crowd were crying and others started singing hymns.

Alexis, 35, said he had hurried to the scene after seeing the first images on television. “I rushed down as soon as I saw what was happening. I never thought it would be this depressing.”

Over the course of an hour, he watched as the flames rose from the roof and sections of it collapsed. “When I got here, the roof was still there. I slowly watched it fall.”

Camille, 20, from Normandy, a history student at the Sorbonne, stood at the police cordon. “There’s a feeling of total sadness and also anger. It’s our heritage. People in the crowd have been singing hymns. Whether you’re Christian or not, part of our history is going up in smoke.”


Some in the crowd said they felt helpless, watching flames spreading across the building. The fire brigade used cherry pickers to spray the building with water from beyond the bell towers.

As night fell, the dull glow of the flames, dampened by jets of water from firefighters’ hoses, continued to flicker across the water on the Île Saint-Louis.

“We are staying just down the street and heard the sirens,” said a visibly distressed Fred Phelps, 72, from Sebastopol in Sonoma County, California, who was in Paris on holiday with his wife Diane, 71, and had booked a guided tour of the cathedral and tower for Wednesday.

“It’s one of the things I wanted to see before I died,” Phelps said. “We saw what was happening and we both welled up. It’s terrible, just terrible. And to see the face of the Parisians, and hear the emotion in their voices. We don’t understand French, but we understand this. We’re both very moved.”

Marie-Anna Ecorchard from Morbihan in Brittany, said she was on a cafe terrace when she saw the first plumes of smoke rise into the air.

“It’s dreadful,” she said. “We’ve seen people sobbing, tears pouring down their faces. This is part of the heritage of Paris, not just of Paris but of all France. It’s just terrible to see such a magnificent building go up in flames. You feel it almost physically.”

Alice Lohr, 26, a lawyer from Paris, said she was “immensely sad. This is a great historic monument, part of the beauty of Paris, part of the history of France. It’s literature, it’s Victor Hugo, musical theatre, the Hunchback – it’s just such a big thing in your life.

The cathedral dates back to the 12th century and played a role in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.


Agnes Rechter, who lives in the Marais, a few hundred metres from Notre Dame said: “We have known the cathedral since our childhood,” she said. “It’s part of our personal history, too.”

She said she thought most of all of “the centuries of work, of craftsmanship, that went into that building ... The men who worked on it down the years”.

Alice Lohr, 26, a lawyer from Paris, said she was “immensely sad. This is a great historic monument, part of the beauty of Paris, part of the history of France. It’s literature, it’s Victor Hugo, musical theatre, the Hunchback – it’s just such a big thing in your life.

The cathedral dates back to the 12th century and played a role in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.


Agnes Rechter, who lives in the Marais, a few hundred metres from Notre Dame said: “We have known the cathedral since our childhood,” she said. “It’s part of our personal history, too.”

She said she thought most of all of “the centuries of work, of craftsmanship, that went into that building ... The men who worked on it down the years”.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, cancelled a planned speech to the nation in light of the “terrible fire”, according to an official at the president’s Élysée office.

He tweeted that his thoughts were with “all Catholics and all French people”. “Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.” The president attended the scene at the Île de la Cité on Monday evening, where he met senior police officers.

France 2 television reported that police were treating the incident as an accident. The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had started an inquiry into the fire.

Notre Dame, which attracts millions of tourists every year, was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding, and bronze statues were removed last week for works.

(Culled from The Guardian)

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