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Notre Dame fire: Historic Paris cathedral saved from total destruction

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The first interior photos show a cathedral that’s scarred, but standing

Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris.
AP Photo/Lori Hinant

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

A massive fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris at 6:50 p.m. local time, causing extensive damage to one of the most visited and revered sites in Europe. While earlier reports worried that firefighters might not be able to save the cathedral, as of 11:16 p.m. local time, Le Monde is reporting that the exterior structure has been “saved and preserved overall.” See what was saved and what was lost, over here.

Early Tuesday morning in Paris, the first interior photos show a cathedral that’s scarred, but standing.

Late Monday night, French President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild Notre Dame and says he is seeking international help to restore the Paris landmark. He told local press that the bulk of the firefighting has been completed, and that “The worst has been avoided although the battle is not yet totally won.” A fundraising campaign will be launched on Tuesday.

According to CNBC, a French fire official says the cathedral has been saved from total destruction after nearly four hours of firefighting efforts and the work of 400 firefighters. Laurent Nunez, secretary to the interior minister, told reporters at the scene, “The fire is now weaker. We are now in a time of cooling but both towers of the cathedral are safe. We’re still working to save the cathedral’s work of arts.” A reporter for Le Monde tweeted out photos showing that while the nave is cluttered with debris, the alter and its cross remains intact.

Billowing smoke could be seen across the city as flames leapt from the cathedral’s roof. One firefighter has been seriously injured—the only reported casualty—and at least two-thirds of the cathedral roof has been destroyed.

Earlier in the evening, the deputy mayor of Paris said Notre Dame Cathedral had suffered “colossal damages” as the Medieval wooden interior was gutted. Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media: “Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame.”

At 9 p.m. local time the AP News reported that the fire had spread to at least one of the church’s landmark rectangular towers. At 9:50 p.m. fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said he was not sure if his team would be capable of stopping the fire from spreading to the second tower and belfry.

A spokesperson for the Paris Fire Department told local media outlets at 9:45 p.m. that the following hour and a half was crucial to see if the fire could be contained. It was during this time period that crews were able to gain control, saving the shell of the stone structure from collapse.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo posted the following on Twitter:

A terrible fire is underway at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The Paris fire department is in the process of trying to control the flames. We are in close contact with the Arch Bishop of Paris. I ask that everyone respect the security perimeter.

Social media users watched in horror when the iconic, 315-foot tall oak spire caught on fire and collapsed, and the cathedral’s famous rose windows were potentially damaged. The height of the flames and the cathedral’s location in the center of an island hindered the efforts of firefighters.

France 24 reported that the “roof has entirely collapsed and there are flames coming out of the back of the cathedral as if it was a torch.” A church spokesperson said that the entire wooden interior of Notre Dame was burning and likely to be destroyed.

Speaking to BFMTV, Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said first responders worked to salvage the art and other priceless pieces stored in the cathedral, and France 24 is also reporting that many of the relics and treasures were removed from the building immediately after the fire broke out. Notre Dame’s top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, said that a centuries-old crown of thorns and the tunic worn by Saint Louis, a 13th-century king of France, were saved.

French President Emmanuel Macron canceled a planned address to the nation due to the fire, and is on the scene in Paris. He posted the following on Twitter:

Notre Dame in Paris is in flames. The sorrow of an entire nation. Thoughts are with all Catholics and all French. Like all of our compatriots, I am sad tonight to see this part of ourselves burn.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the fire on Monday, advising France to use “flying water tankers” to put out the fire. In a pair of tweets, France’s civil defense agency dismissed Trump’s suggestion.

The drop of water by air on this type of building could indeed result in the collapse of the entire structure,” the agency said in French. “Alongside those ... who are currently doing the maximum to save #NotreDame.”

“Helicopter or airplane, the weight of the water and the intensity of the drop at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and result in collateral damage to the buildings in the vicinity.

Cinders and ash fell across the city, and there’s no word yet about what started the blaze. ABC News is reporting that the fire may be connected to recent restoration efforts, and observers noticed that scaffolding was on fire.

The cathedral has been undergoing extensive renovation work. Just last week, 16 copper statues were removed from the roof for cleaning and to aid the restoration. In recent years, large chunks of stone have chipped off of the the landmark’s elaborate facade, and in 2017 the church worked to raise 100 million euros ($120 million) to combat the wear and tear of seven centuries.

Fire is a potential danger as historic buildings are being restored; In 2018, a blaze destroyed the Glasgow School of Art and in 2006, and fire decimated all but the exterior walls of the Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago. Both structures were undergoing restoration.

The Vatican also issued a statement, saying: “The Holy See has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.” The statement says the Vatican is praying for firefighters “and those who are doing everything possible to confront this dramatic situation.”

The Notre Dame Cathedral is a medieval church at the center of Paris on the Île de la Cité, an island in the Seine River. Construction began in 1163 and finished in 1260, although major updates were made throughout the subsequent centuries. The iconic spire that collapsed on Monday was not an original component of the cathedral. Along with the gargoyles immortalized in Victor Hugo’s famous novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Gothic revival spire was added in the nineteenth century.

Around the world, Notre Dame is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, famous for both its interior rib vaults and its now-iconic flying buttresses. The cathedral has survived looting in the French Revolution, mobs during the Paris Commune, two world wars, and Adolf Hitler’s plans for demolition in 1944.

At least 13 million people visit the cathedral each year.