A French official and the Paris fire chief say they think Notre-Dame Cathedral’s landmark rectangular towers have been saved from the fire that caused horrific damage.
The cathedral went up in flames on Monday in a roaring blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, a huge loss for the city and for France.
Flames that began in the early evening burst rapidly through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.
As a huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area, Parisians watched, many of them at a loss for words.
Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said late Monday that authorities remain “prudent” but are “much more optimistic” than earlier in the night.
Paris fire commander Jean-Claude Gallet said a major accomplishment of hundreds of firefighters was stopping the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry.
Gallet says two-thirds of Notre-Dame’s roofing “has been ravaged.” He says one firefighter was injured.
He says fire crews will keep working overnight to cool down the structure.
The mayor of Paris says people who live near Notre-Dame Cathedral have been evacuated.
But Mayor Anne Hidalgo said late Monday that firefighters were optimistic they could keep the towers that bookend the famous cathedral from going up in flames.
The fire chief in Paris went even further, saying his crews managed to stop the flames from reaching the belfry and prevented a catastrophic collapse.
Hildago says the significant collection art work and holy objects kept inside the church has been recovered.
Fire treated as an accident
The Paris prosecutor’s office says investigators are treating the blaze that destroyed part of Notre-Dame as an accident for now. They have ruled out arson in Monday’s fire, including possible terror-related motives for starting the blaze.
Prosecutors say Paris police will conduct an investigation into “involuntary destruction caused by fire.”
The cathedral had been in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding. Bronze statues were removed last week for work.
“Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
Macron, who cancelled an address to the nation that he had been due to give on Monday evening, went to the scene of the blaze.
‘It will never be the same’
The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.
“I have a lot of friends who live abroad, and every time they come I tell them to go to Notre-Dame,” said witness Samantha Silva, with tears in her eyes.
“I’ve visited it so many times, but it will never be the same. It’s a real symbol of Paris.”
Built over a century starting in 1163, Notre-Dame is considered to be among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture.
It is renowned for its rib vaulting, flying buttresses and stunning stained glass windows, as well as its many carved stone gargoyles.
Its 100-metre-long roof, of which a large section was consumed in the first hour of the blaze, was one of the oldest such structures in Paris, according to the cathedral’s website.
“There are a lot of art works inside … it’s a real tragedy,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters at the scene.
A centre of Roman Catholic faith, over the centuries Notre-Dame has also been a target of political upheaval.
It was ransacked by rioting Protestant Huguenots in the 16th century, pillaged again during the French Revolution of the 1790s, and left in a state of semi-neglect. Hugo’s 1831 work led to revived interest in the cathedral and a major “partly botched” restoration that began in 1844.
The wood-and-lead spire was built during that restoration, according to the cathedral’s website.
UNESCO said in a tweet it was “closely monitoring the situation and is standing by France’s side to safeguard and restore this invaluable heritage.”