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Historic Notre Dame Cathedral Devastated By Fire

Monday, April 15, 2019
AP/Thibault Camus

PARIS (AP) — A catastrophic fire engulfed the upper reaches of Paris' soaring Notre Dame Cathedral as it was undergoing renovations Monday, threatening one of the greatest architectural treasures of the Western world as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below. France's Interior Ministry said firefighters might not be able to save the structure.

The blaze collapsed the cathedral's spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers. A spokesman said the entire wooden frame of the cathedral would likely come down, and that the vault of the edifice could be threatened too.

"Everything is burning, nothing will remain from the frame," Notre Dame spokesman Andre Finot told French media. The 12th-century cathedral is home to incalculable works of art and is one of the world's most famous tourist attractions, immortalized by Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

French President Emmanuel Macron is treating the fire gutting Notre Dame Cathedral as a national emergency.

Macron reached the landmark cathedral on Monday evening and went straight into meetings at the nearby Paris police headquarters. 

France's civil security agency says "all means" except for water-dropping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze.

The defense agency said those were unsuitable for fires like the one at Notre Dame because dumping water on the building could cause the whole structure to collapse.

The blaze collapsed the cathedral's spire and spread to one of its landmark rectangular towers. A spokesman said the entire wooden frame of the cathedral would likely come down, and that the vault of the edifice could be threatened too.

French writer and historian Camille Pascal says a massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral has caused "the destruction of invaluable heritage" and "we can be only horrified by what we see."

Pascal told French broadcaster BFMTV: "It's been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris" and its bells pealed for both "happy and unfortunate events."

He recalled that Notre Dame's bells sounded a death knell after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

Authorities are investigating if renovation work on the cathedral's fire was a factor in starting or spreading the fire.

On Thursday, 16 religious statues were removed from the peak for the first time in over a century to be taken for cleaning and therefore escaped the blaze.

(Images: AP/Tibault Camus/Francois Mori)