London: At first light in Paris on Tuesday architects, engineers and firefighters met to inspect the devastation wrought on the city’s heart and nation’s soul, Notre-Dame.
Millions of euros have already been pledged, in France and around the world, to rebuild the 850-year-old cathedral which was gutted by fire on Monday night, local time.
“We will rebuild Notre-Dame together,” French President Emmanuel Macron had promised after visiting the scene.
Firefighters operate on the Notre Dame cathedral after the fire in Paris.Credit:Kamil Zihnioglu / AP
"It’s our history, our literature, our imagination, the place where we experienced all our greatest moments."
But daylight also brought new appreciation of the scale of the damage, which will take decades to repair.
Firefighters had worked through the night putting out new outbreaks of fire in Notre-Dame’s famous Gothic bell towers, which appeared to have survived the blaze along with the main outer walls.
It took hours to bring the fire at Notre Dame under control.Credit:EPA
But the cathedral’s 1000-square-metre roof is almost entirely gone and much of its floor has crumbled into the vault. Officials’ priority on Tuesday was to determine if the structure was stable or still at risk of further collapse – as was feared at the height of the blaze.
The fire broke out in the cathedral roof around 6.45pm on Monday. Firefighters battled rush-hour traffic to reach the site, where they found the fire spreading at high speed through the "forest" of huge, ancient oak beams in the cathedral’s heights.
According to early reports the fire had started inside scaffolding installed for a much-needed restoration project.
Around 8pm the cathedral spire collapsed, engulfed in orange flame, and many feared the building would be lost altogether.
The spire of Notre Dame collapses in flames.
More than 400 firefighters trained 18 fire hoses on the building, pumping water from the Seine, but they could not call on firefighting planes because of the effect a sudden impact of water could have on the structure as well as nearby buildings.
Inside, firefighters risked their lives amid heavy smoke and dodged falling drops of lead from the melting spire and roof as they fought to prevent the blaze spreading to the historic towers. They managed to recover around a third of the building’s contents, local media reported.
Treasures of Notre-Dame – artworks and holy relics – had been saved, a firefighter spokesman said. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said firefighters had formed a human chain to rescue them.
Relics include a piece of the Cross, the tunic of St Louis, a nail of the Passion and the Holy Crown of Thorns, which arrived in Paris in the 13th century from Constantinople.
The rescued artworks were moved to City Hall and will now go to the Louvre.
Just last week, 16 copper statues of apostles and evangelists were lowered from the spire and taken to south-west France for restoration.
Two police officers and a firefighter was slightly injured during the firefight.
By 11pm Paris Fire Brigade commander Jean-Claude Gallet announced that the building’s structure and been "saved and preserved in its entirety".
Flames and smoke rise as the spire of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.Credit:AP
However a cathedral spokesman said on Tuesday morning it was too early for a complete damage report.
Part of the vault had collapsed and the interior was dangerous to enter, he said.
An investigation has already been opened into the cause of the fire, and investigators have conducted preliminary interviews with restoration workers.
Paris prosecutors had reportedly ruled out arson or terror. However they will not begin detailed work until the site is declared safe, and they warned the investigation would take a long time.
There will also be questions asked about delays to restoration work at the site.
Experts had estimated Notre-Dame needed €150 million ($237 million) worth of work, but the state had been slow to come up with just a third of the needed funds, and the cathedral had been seeking private donations for the balance.
France will now hold a national fundraiser to rebuild it.
French retail billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault has already pledged €100 million from his family fund for its “complete reconstruction”.
Luxury goods magnate Bernard Arnault – owner of Louis Vuitton and Moet & Chandon – pledged €200 million from himself and his company.
The Ile-de-France region, where the cathedral is located, has put up €10 million in emergency aid, and Hidalgo proposed an "international donor conference" to raise money for the repair.
France’s Minister of Culture Franck Riester said the state would contribute to the rebuilding but "we need everyone in the world".
On Monday Parisians had wept, sung, even kneeling and praying in the streets – or stood silent, surveying the blaze.
There was shock as the spire collapsed, but immense relief as they learnt the building would not crumble altogether.
Early photos from inside the church showed smouldering wreckage. But the walls stood strong and, above the altar, a large cross glowed.
In its long history Notre-Dame de Paris has suffered before, but those who love it are determined it will survive.
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