Notre-Dame fire: Everything we know so far about the Paris cathedral blaze.

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A catastrophic fire at Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral has left a nation mourning the devastation of its cultural and historic “epicentre” and sent shockwaves around the world.

Hundreds of firefighters tackled the historic blaze through the night, battling to stop it wreaking complete destruction of the treasured facade after flames torched the roof, sending its spire crashing to the ground before crowds of horrified Parisians.

This is what we know so far about the violent blaze:

How did it start?

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it was treating the fire as an accident, ruling out arson and possible terror-related motives, at least for now.

The fire began around 6.50 pm (5.50pm UK time).

“I was not far away, I saw the smoke. At first I thought it was the Hotel-Dieu (hospital) but then I realised it was the cathedral. When I arrived, ash was beginning to fall,” said Olivier De Chalus, head volunteer guide of the cathedral.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately known. It spread from the attic, and quickly across a large part of the roof.

An investigation was opened for accidental destruction by fire, Paris prosecutors said.

Investigators were focused on whether the fire spread from the site of ongoing reconstruction work on the roof of the cathedral, a source close to the investigation said.

Construction workers were spoken to Monday evening by investigators, the department said.

What was destroyed?

Despite the dramatic image of the flaming cathedral, no one was killed. One firefighter was injured, among some 400 who battled the flames for hours before finally extinguishing them.

At around 7.50 pm (6.50pmUK time), the cathedral’s spire – one of Paris’s most famous landmarks at 93 metres high – collapsed.

Within a few hours, a large part of the roof had been reduced to ashes. “The fire affected two-thirds of the roof, which has collapsed, as well as the spire,” said Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet, adding that the operation was focused on preserving the rear of the cathedral where the most valuable works are located.

The flames devoured the roof’s wooden frame, which is more than 100 metres in length and nicknamed “the forest”.

Firefighters continued working through the night to cool the building and secure the monument, as residual sparks sprinkled down from the gaping hole where the spire used to be.

What survived?

Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet said the structure had been saved after firefighters managed to stop the fire spreading to the northern belfry. 

Many of the cathedral’s priceless artefacts and objects of huge cultural and historical significance were also rescued.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo confirmed several of the most sacred had been saved, while culture minister Franck Riester said a others were being held under lock and key at the city hall.

Ms Hidalgo said the Crown of Thorns had been taken into safekeeping.

Purported to be a relic of the wreath of thorns placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion, the object was stored in the cathedral’s treasury.

French King Louis IX brought the relic, which is contained in an elaborate gold case, to Paris in 1238.

Ms Hidalgo said the Tunic of Saint Louis had been saved.

The simple garment, said to have been worn by Louis IX as he brought the Crown of Thorns to Paris, was also kept at the cathedral.

Among the most famous architectural features of the Gothic masterpiece, the stained glass rose windows are treasured artworks in their own right.

The three rose windows, which date back to the 13th century, adorn the north, south and west facades.

One appeared to be damaged but it was oped the other two survived. 

Sparks and flames are seen through a stained glass window as the Notre Dame Cathedral burns in Paris
Sparks and flames are seen through a stained glass window as the Notre-Dame Cathedral burns in Paris CREDIT: REUTERS

It was also hoped that the Great Organ was unharmed.

With nearly 8,000 pipes, some dating back to the 1700s, Notre-Dame’s master organ is one of the largest in the world.

The monumental instrument, the largest in France, was fully restored in 2013 with each pipe cleaned.

The fire was prevented from spreading to the bell towers. Housed in the two western towers, Notre-Dame’s bells have rung out at key moments in France’s history.

Emmanuel, the largest bell, was lifted into the south tower in 1685 and weighs over 23 tonnes.

Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Quasimodo, was the cathedral’s bell-ringer.

What happens now?

Restoring the building will take “years of work”, said the newly elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of France, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort.

In response to “multiple requests” the Fondation du patrimoine, a hertitage organisation, will Tuesday launch a “national collection” for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame, Anne Le Breton, deputy mayor of the French capital’s 4th arrondissement, said in a statement to AFP.

French President Emmanuel Macron said a “national undertaking” would be launched, and that “far beyond our borders, we will appeal to the greatest talents… who will contribute, and we will rebuild”.

French billionaires the Pinault family have reportedly pledged more than 100 million euros (£86 million) to restore the 800-year-old cathedral, whose spire collapsed amid the flames.

Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to actress Salma Hayek, is quoted in the French media as saying he and his father, Francois, had decided to donate the money to help with the “complete reconstruction” of Notre-Dame.

The younger Mr Pinault is chief executive of international luxury group Kering, which owns brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and is the president of French holding company Groupe Artemis, which owns the Christie’s auction house.

Meanwhile, France’s Fondation du Patrimoine, a private organisation which works to protect French heritage, said it would be starting an international appeal.

Across the pond, the US-based French Heritage Society said it would be establishing a restoration fund, while several appeals have already been set up on crowdfunding sites such as Go Fund Me and Just Giving.

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