Hundreds of firemen battled the blaze that consumed the roof and collapsed the eight-centuries-old cathedral’s spire for more than eight hours before bringing it under control, saving its bell towers and outer walls.
Pockets of fire continued to burn inside the building and thorough checks on the cathedral’s structural soundness would be needed, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said. However, the cathedral was saved from total destruction.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire. Several police sources said they were working on the assumption for now that the fire was accidental.
Firefighters who entered the burning cathedral saved many of its treasures, Riester said, although some paintings remained inside and risked smoke and water damage.
Paris’ deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said yesterday that the cathedral’s 8000-pipe grand organ had been saved. Also believed to be saved is the large stained glass North Rose Window. There are conflicting reports about the state of the other rose windows.
The fire tore through the cathedral’s timbered roofing, where workmen were carrying out extensive renovations to collapsed balustrades and crumbling gargoyles and the spire’s wooden frame.
President Emmanuel Macron - treating the fire as a national emergency - promised France would rebuild Notre Dame, considered among the finest examples of French Gothic cathedral architecture and visited by more than 13million people annually.
“We will rebuild it together. It will undoubtedly be part of French destiny and our project for the years to come,” Macron said outside the cathedral shortly before midnight.
France’s Fondation du Patrimoine, a charity which works to protect French heritage, is launching an international appeal to raise funds for the rebuilding that is likely to cost hundreds of millions of euros.
Other campaigns were swiftly launched in the US as well-wishers around the world pledged contributions via social media.
Two of France’s wealthiest men, Francois-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of the Kering group which owns brands including Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and Bernard Arnault, the main shareholder of luxury group LVMH, said they would donate ¤100 million (R1.58billion) and ¤200m respectively.
“This tragedy strikes all the French and beyond all those who are attached to spiritual values,” Pinault said. The UN’s cultural agency Unesco, which is based in Paris, has promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the world heritage site.
The Holy See said it had heard with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is a “symbol of Christianity in France and in the world”.
A centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France, were saved, said Notre-Dame’s top administrative cleric, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet.
Copper statues representing the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists were removed by crane last week as part of renovation work and escaped the blaze.
American tourist Susan Hargrove said she’d been left breathless by the scale of devastation. “We are talking of world history of our Western culture, but also of something that is truly universal,” Hargrove said. “Notre Dame means something to everybody.”
As the fire raged, onlookers gathered in shock, some singing and others praying. From across the globe, people took to social media to express their shock and support for the people of France. Television stations provided ongoing coverage and many newspapers featured the burning cathedral on their front pages yesterday.
In England, the fire has led to a warning that the Palace of Westminster, which is also being renovated, is at risk of a fire that could prove to be just as devastating.