Notre-Dame in Paris ravaged by fire

Smoke billowing as flames burn through the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. Photo courtesy: AFP

By Camille BOUISSOU

Paris (AFP) -- A fire that spread from the attic of Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday has caused its spire to crash to the ground, and devastated Paris's historical monument.

Fire in the attic

The fire began around 6.50 pm (1650 GMT).

"I was not far away, I saw the smoke. At first I thought it was the Hotel-Dieu (hospital) but then I realised it was the cathedral. When I arrived, ash was beginning to fall," said Olivier De Chalus, head volunteer guide of the cathedral.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. It spread from the attic, and quickly across a large part of the roof.

The flames devoured the roof's wooden frame, which is more than 100 metres in length and nicknamed "the forest".

An investigation was opened for accidental destruction by fire, Paris prosecutors said.

Investigators were focused on whether the fire spread from the site of ongoing reconstruction work on the roof of the cathedral, a source close to the investigation said.

Construction workers were spoken to Monday evening by investigators, the department said.

Fire 'under control'

Firefighters announced early Tuesday the fire was "completely under control" and "partially extinguished". Only "residual fires" were still burning.

Around 11.00 pm (2100 GMT), they announced that the structure of the cathedral had been "saved and preserved".

From the moment the fire was spotted, a major emergency operation was put in place to contain the blaze.

Four hundred firefighters with 18 fire hoses, some perched on cranes tens of metres off the ground, battled to contain the fire as quickly as possible.

However, using water-bombing aircraft -- as suggested by US President Donald Trump -- was not considered: "If used, (this) could lead to the collapse of the entire structure of the cathedral," France's civil security service tweeted.

Extent of damage

At around 7.50 pm (1750 GMT), the cathedral's spire -- one of Paris's most famous landmarks at 93 metres high -- collapsed.

Within a few hours, a large part of the roof had been reduced to ashes.

The extent of the damage inside the cathedral was not yet known by around 11.00 pm (2100 GMT).

"The fire affected two-thirds of the roof, which has collapsed, as well as the spire," said Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet, adding that the operation was focussed on preserving the rear of the cathedral where the most valuable works are located.

The Holy Crown of Thorns and a sacred tunic worn by 13th-century French king Louis, two irreplaceable artifacts, had been rescued, the cathedral rector Patrick Chauvet said.

'Years of work'

Restoring the building will take "years of work", said the newly elected president of the Bishops' Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort.

In response to "multiple requests" the Fondation du patrimoine, a hertitage organisation, will Tuesday launch a "national collection" for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame, Anne Le Breton, deputy mayor of the French capital's 4th arrondissement, said in a statement to AFP.

Overnight the Pinault family, one of the richest in France, pledged 100 million euros ($113 million) for Notre-Dame.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who headed to the scene, said a "national undertaking" would be launched, and that "far beyond our borders, we will appeal to the greatest talents... who will contribute, and we will rebuild".

In addition to Notre Dame Cathedral, several heritage sites around the world have been either completely or partially destroyed by fires. Here are some examples.

York Minster

On July 9, 1984, a fire believed to have been triggered by a lightning strike caused severe damage to Britain's imposing York Minster. The massive blaze destroyed the roof of the south transept of the Gothic cathedral, which was completed in the 15th century.

The intense heat cracked its magnificent 16th century stained glass Rose Window into tens of thousands of pieces but it was able to be painstakingly repaired.

Restoration work on the minster was completed in 1988 at a cost of £2.25 million (around £5.1 million, $6.7 million today).

Brazil National Museum

Overnight September 2-3, 2018, Brazil's National Museum, north of Rio de Janeiro, was ravaged by a massive fire.

Latin America's largest natural history and anthropology museum held more than 20 million artefacts and 530,000 titles.

The museum was particularly reputed for the richness of its paleontology department with more than 26,000 fossils, including a dinosaur skeleton discovered in Brazil's central Minas Gerais.

Several specimen of species that disappeared in the blaze included giant sloths and sabre-toothed tigers.

Venice opera house

In 1996 Venice's celebrated opera house La Fenice was gutted by fire.

With its near-perfect acoustics, La Fenice, opened in 1792, was one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and one of the most famous in the history of opera.

Two electricians were sentenced to six and seven years in prison on negligence charges.

It reopened in 2004.

Barcelona opera house

In 1994 the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona's world-famous opera house was destroyed by fire.

One of Spain's cultural jewels, the 150-year-old theatre was gutted in a blaze in which only the foyer and the horseshoe arch over the auditorium were left standing. It has since been reconstructed.

Windsor Castle

A major fire at Windsor Castle, west of London, on November 20, 1992, destroyed the northeastern part of the royal site, the queen's weekend residence.

Nine of the rooms were left unrecognisable by the fire, which started in the former Chapel Royal when a lighting projector too close to a curtain started the blaze during routine maintenance work.

It took 250 firefighters working 15 hours and pumping more than 6.5 million litres of water to bring the blaze under control.

The Castle reopened to the public in 1997 after five years of restoration.

Bosnia National Library

Bosnia's 19th century National Library was destroyed in the war-time siege of the city of Sarajevo, overnight on 25-26 August 1992.

It had housed some two million books, old scripts, photographs and transcripts before it was shelled by Serb forces who kept Sarajevo under a three-and-a-half-year long siege.

Only some 10 percent of its resources were saved from the resulting fire.

Reconstruction works, part-financed by the European Union, began in 1996 and the new library was inaugurated in 2014.

Geneva Grand Theatre

In 1951 the Grand Theatre of Geneva in Switzerland, built in the 19th century, was devastated in a fire that began during the preparation for a performance of Richard Wagner's "The Valkyrie".

It reopened in 1962.


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