Inferno devastates Notre-Dame
• Blaze may be linked to building work, say police • Thousands of Parisians watch in horror as spire falls
Thousands of Parisians watched in horror from behind police cordons last night 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 in the late afternoon. Police said they believed the inferno began accidentally and may be linked to building work at the cathedral. The 850-year-old gothic masterpiece had been undergoing restoration work.
“Everything is burning,” André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, told French media. “Nothing will remain from the [roof] frame.”
Flames burst through the roof of the cathedral – one of France’s most visited attractions – and quickly engulfed the lead and wood structure of the cathedral’s spire, which collapsed. The spire had been added to the building in the 19th century.
Smoke billowed cross the city and ash fell over a large area. No deaths or injuries were initially reported. Buildings around the cathedral were evacuated, and the fire department said a major operation was under way. Police closed several metro stations and cordoned off roads by the river.
A cathedral spokesman said the entire wooden interior of the 13thcentury landmark was burning and was likely to be destroyed, while 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 mayor, Anne Hidalgo, told reporters at the scene. On the left bank of the
Seine thousands gathered to watch the fire blazing as orange flames towered above the roof. The crowd could hear loud bangs as part of the structure collapsed.
Fire trucks sped through Paris towards the scene on the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine at the heart of Paris where the cathedral is located.
Some people in the crowd were crying, and others started singing hymns. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing,” said one older woman, who did not wish to give her name. “If this burns down, it’s a piece of history that goes.”
Alexis, 35, said he had hurried to the scene after seeing the first images on the television news. “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 had 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. Whether you’re Christian or not, part of our history is going up in smoke.”
A 55-year-old furniture restorer, who did not wish to give his name, said he had arrived at the start of the fire and had watched the flames move from the back of the cathedral towards the bell towers. “This is a major moment,” he said. This building is a symbol of Catholicism. It’s a symbol of Paris.”
Some in the crowd said they felt helpless, watching flames spreading across the building. The fire brigade used hoses mounted on cherry pickers to spray the building with water from beyond the bell towers.
A large crowd, many in tears, had gathered on the neighbouring Île St Louis, just across from the scene of the disaster.
“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 tomorrow.
“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, who was visiting the French capital with her husband Louis to see her children, said she was on the Île St Louis on a cafe terrace when she saw the first plumes of smoke rise into the air at about 6.50pm local time (5.50pm BST).
“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.”
Flames were first seen around the spire, in among scaffolding at the centre of the restoration work. When the spire collapsed soon after 7pm there was “like a huge gasp, a collective cry” from everyone watching, Ecorchard said. “What can you say? Seeing it, just across the river, it’s almost like watching a person suffer ...”
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 13th century and played a role in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback of NotreDame. “When you are a Parisian and you love Paris, this is like a bodyblow,” Lohr said. “It’s actually quite hard to describe how it feels. Terribly, terribly sad.”
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.
The president, who arrived at the scene in the early evening, 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.”
Hidalgo tweeted that firefighters were still trying to contain the fire and urged residents to stay away from the security perimeter. “The Paris fire service is trying to control the flames,” she said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had started an inquiry into the fire.
Notre Dame attracts millions of tourists every year from around the world. As part of its renovations, several bronze statues that surrounded the spire were removed.
Journal Leader comment Page 2
Clockwise from main: flames and smoke billow from NotreDame cathedral yesterday; a firefighter high on a ladder attempts to damp down the blazing roof; horror on a face in the gathering crowd; and the end of the ancient spire