A massive fire consumed Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, gutting the roof of the Paris landmark and stunning France and the world, though firefighters saved the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse before bringing the blaze under control.
Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the eight-centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which toppled, quickly followed by the entire roof.
The fire, after burning for about 8 hours, was largely extinguished by 3 am local time on Tuesday.
Earlier, in addition to battling to prevent one of the main bell towers from collapsing, firefighters tried to rescue religious relics and priceless artwork. One firefighter was seriously injured – the only reported casualty.
“The worst has been avoided,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the scene shortly before midnight.
Macron said France would launch a campaign to rebuild the cathedral, which is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture, including fundraising efforts and by appealing to “talents” from overseas to contribute.
“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” a visibly moved Macron said.
The cathedral’s main stone structure had escaped complete destruction by the time the fire came under control.
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 the Seine and along its embankments, held at a distance by a police cordon. Some sang liturgical music in harmonies late into the night as they stood vigil, while others recited prayers.
The cathedral was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding, and bronze statues had been removed last week for works.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said they were working on the assumption for now that the fire was accidental.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said at the scene that some of many artworks that were in the cathedral had been rescued and were being put in safe storage.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said her thoughts were with the French people and emergency services fighting the “terrible blaze.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the cathedral a “symbol of France and our European culture.”
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 cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, 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
Notre-Dame, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.