Paris, April 16 (IANS) A devastating fire that engulfed the Notre Dame, the 850-year-old Unesco world heritage landmark in Paris, was brought under control on Tuesday, while the Cathedral’s main structure as well as its two towers has been saved, the city’s fire brigade has confirmed.
“The fire is completely under control. It is partially extinguished, there are residual fires to put out,” the Guardian quoted a fire brigade spokesman as saying on Tuesday morning.
Some 500 firefighters worked to prevent one of the bell towers from collapsing, according to fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet, adding that several invaluable artefacts had also been rescued from the burning cathedral.
The fire began at around 6.30 p.m., on Monday and quickly caused the collapse of the Cathedral’s spectacular Gothic spire and the destruction of its roof structure, which dated back to the 13th century.
Consumed by flames, the spire leaned to one side and fell onto the burning roof as horrified onlookers watched.
Parisians raised their voices in song on Monday night outside the burning Cathedral which is one of the city’s most revered historic sites.
French President Emmanuel Macron praised firefighters for saving the Cathedral’s iconic facade and towers, saying “the worst has been avoided”, CNN reported.
Yet he lamented the damage already done to “the Cathedral of all French people”. He asked the country to commit to rebuilding Notre Dame together, announcing an international fundraising campaign to raise money for the repairs.
“Notre Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery. It’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations…This history is ours. And it burns. It burns and I know the sadness so many of our fellow French feel.”
A site taking online donations has been launched.
The cause of the fire is not yet clear. Officials have said that it could be linked to the renovation work that began after cracks appeared in the stone, sparking fears the structure could become unstable, the BBC reported.
Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened an inquiry into “accidental destruction by fire”.
Several churches around Paris rang their bells in response to the blaze, which happened as Catholics celebrate Holy Week.
The Vatican said the Holy See learned with “shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered her support to the people of France, calling Notre-Dame a “symbol of French and European culture”.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a tweet: “My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre-Dame cathedral”.
US President Donald Trump said it was “horrible to watch” the fire and suggested that “flying water tankers” could be used to extinguish the blaze.
UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres said: “Horrified by the pictures coming from Paris with the fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral – a unique example of world heritage that has stood tall since the 14th century…”
The Notre Dame’s foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, and the Cathedral was completed in the 13th century.
Today, with its towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass, Notre Dame is considered a feat of architecture as well as a major religious and cultural symbol of France. It is one of Paris’ most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year.
It was the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation as Emperor in 1804. The central spire was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, partly buoyed by the success of Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” in 1831.
The Cathedral also houses the grand organ, one of the world’s most famous musical instruments, as well as the Crown of Thorns, a relic of the passion of Christ.