Paris firefighters race to save Notre Dame from ongoing fire

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 4/15/2019, 5:24 p.m.
Parisians raised their voices in song Monday night outside Notre Dame Cathedral as firefighters battled a massive blaze threatening one ...
Birds fly away from the Notre Dame cathedral as flames reach the rooftop.

By Eric Levenson, Melissa Bell and Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

(CNN) -- Parisians raised their voices in song Monday night outside Notre Dame Cathedral as firefighters battled a massive blaze threatening one of France's most revered attractions.

The fire burned for several hours Monday, causing the collapse of the iconic spire towering above the cathedral.

Consumed by flames, the spire leaned to one side and fell onto the burning roof as horrified onlookers watched.

By late Monday night, both of the cathedral's towers were safe, said Laurent Nunez, secretary to the interior minister.

"The fire is now weaker. We are now in a time of cooling but both towers of the cathedral are safe," Nunez told reporters at the scene.

At least one firefighter injured

For much of the day, flames and thick plumes of smoke billowed from the cathedral, including the bell tower and the spire. Rescue workers rushed to evacuate artworks.

It was not immediately known what caused the fire. The cathedral is surrounded by scaffolding amid construction work. Gallet said the initial call to emergency services notified authorities of a fire in the attic of the cathedral.

About 400 firefighters were mobilized to deal with the blaze, the French Interior Ministry said. Firetrucks had difficulty accessing the scene, located on an island in Paris, amid the daily afternoon rush hour. Police urged the public to avoid the area.

Firefighters atop cherry picker cranes sprayed water onto the church in an attempt to calm the flames.

One firefighter was seriously injured, Paris Fire Brigade Commander General Jean-Claude Gallet said.

'Madness'

The fire, just days before Easter, was met with horror by Parisians and tourists.

Thibaud Binétruy, who lives in Paris, said he saw the smoke while walking home with a colleague and was gripped by the sight.

"When the spire fell, the crowd reacted with ohhh and ahh, but I guess most of them were just shocked silently," Binétruy said. "It's awful to see such a symbol disappearing in front of you. It's been there for so many years and in a few minutes half of it disappeared ... crazy. Paris without Notre Dame, madness."

Patryk Bukalski was at a café near the cathedral when he started smelling smoke.

"A bartender said the Notre Dame is on fire, so I left and saw this horrible picture," he said over Instagram.

He said people are standing outside, watching and crying.

"It's horrible. It's a symbol of Paris," Bukalski said. "It's just sad. I don't know what more to say."

Another witness, Anne Marie, spoke with tears in her eyes.

"In Paris, it's a monumental symbol -- every person with different religions are really moved and saddened," she said. "Paris without the cathedral is not Paris anymore."

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."