In­ferno dev­as­tates Notre-Dame

• Blaze may be linked to build­ing work, say po­lice • Thou­sands of Parisians watch in hor­ror as spire falls

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - An­gelique Chrisafis and Jon Hen­ley Paris

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

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: GE­OF­FROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/GETTY; PIERRE SUU/GETTY

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