France's Iconic Notre Dame Cathedral Partially Destroyed By Fire Amid Renovation Work
The medieval Notre Dame cathedral, which has long been one of the most well-known symbols of Paris and France, was ravaged by blazing fire on Monday evening, with a significant part of the masterpiece that took nearly 200 years to build gone in smoke within a few hours
Almost 400 firefighters were deployed at the scene to save the landmark cathedral. No fire-related deaths have been reported but one of the firefighters who was working on the scene sustained serious injuries.
The reasons for the tragedy are still unclear but might have been linked to the renovation work.
CENTURIES-OLD NATIONAL TREASURE ABLAZE
The fire is believed to have started at the top of the cathedral, where renovation work was underway, at around 7 p.m. local time (17:00 GMT) and immediately started devouring the wooden structures of the building.
While many were frustrated at the fact the firefighters would not use aerial means to put out the fire that was consuming the national heritage, the firefighters themselves explained that they feared that dumping such huge amount of water on the centuries-old building could cause its collapse.
Despite the fact that the cathedral suffered significant damage, the main structure of the building, which is made of stone, has been preserved, Paris fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters at around 20:50 GMT on Monday.
"We believe [we] were able to save two towers of the cathedral ... We believe that the structure of Notre Dame has been saved and preserved," Gallet told BFMTV.
A few hours after the start of the fire, a spokesman for the cathedral, Andre Finot said that the treasures kept in Notre Dame were unlikely to have been affected by the blaze as the holy relics were kept in a sacristy.
"We need to see the storage that protects the cathedral, whether it is affected or not ... The holy relics are stored in a sacristy, usually there is no risk that it can be caught on fire," Finot said, as quoted by Le Figaro newspaper.
"We have rescued the Crown of Thorns, and the tunic of St. Louis. Several paintings were saved but some were too big to take down," Chauvet told BFMTV.
FRENCH NATION AND ENTIRE WORLD IN SHOCK
As fire was devouring the symbol of the French nation, Parisians and tourists were watching in silent shock.
"What has happened today is obviously a terrible tragedy ... Notre Dame is our history, our literature, our imagination, where we lived all our great moments ... It is the epicenter of our lives," Macron said at the scene.
The president thanked the firefighters for their courage, which helped preserve the cathedral's towers and facade, and pledged that the historic Gothic cathedral would be rebuilt, calling on the world's "greatest talents" to help.
"The fire that they are having at the Notre Dame cathedral is something like few people have witnessed ... It was burning at a level that your rarely see a fire burn ... It's a terrible sight to behold," Trump said.
Hieromonk Stefan Igumnov, the secretary for inter-Christian relations at the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, told Sputnik that the Notre Dame fire was a tragedy for the whole Christian world.
No evidence of arson has been found, Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz said Tuesday. According to Heitz, about 50 investigators will work on the case to determine what caused the blaze.
"We must, of course, wait for the results of the police investigations that were launched immediately, as the fire was still raging in Paris. It is always possible that the fire was an act of vandalism or even of terrorism. The workers had left the building at 5 p.m. [15:00 GMT], and the fire started at about 6.40 p.m.," Claude Moniquet, a former intelligence agent at the French Directorate-General for External Security, told Sputnik.
Moniquet, who is currently at the helm of the European strategic intelligence and security center think tank, remarked that there had been a failed bombing attack targeting the famous cathedral. A car loaded with explosive materials was found near Notre Dame in September 2016. Several people were arrested in connection with the plot.
"But in this instance, I believe it was a real accident. Often repairs of castle roofs, for example, result in a fire, due to the works. At Notre Dame, in the few days prior to the fire, they had started disassembling statues to bring them down for restoration and had used welding equipment. It is very dangerous on a roof which heats up under the sun and of which the wood is very very dry. You can also always have a short-circuit in electrical equipment, such as the two lifts installed on site for the works," Moniquet said.
"I hope this [the reconstruction] happens as soon as possible. This monument is a part of France's heritage. The state should take care of its reconstruction and the Catholic Church and all the French will help it," the spokesman said.
Michel Picaud, the president of the Friends of Notre-Dame of Paris Foundation, told reporters a few hours after the start of the fire that the restoration of the iconic cathedral could take at least a decade.
"The renovation program began last year and was expected to last about ten years ... Taking into account the damage which occurred today, the restoration will take, in my opinion, at least 10 years with a redoubled effort," Picaud said.
The French heritage foundation has already launched a fund-raising campaign to help rebuild the landmark cathedral.
French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault has, in turn, pledged in a statement to donate together with his father as much as 100 million Euros (over $113 million) for the reconstruction of the cathedral.
Patrice Bernard, who leads Carpenters in a famous French centuries-old association of craftsmen and artisans, "Compagnons du Tour de France," has described the great work that went into building the cathedral.
"The 'forest' that the roof of Notre Dame represented, covering the whole nave, was huge and composed of trees much older than 100 years, when they were felled 850 years ago and brought to the island of the City in Paris to build the cathedral. You can imagine it was quite difficult at the time to raise these beams to the roof of the monument. Notre Dame had kept nearly all its original roof structure in oak, which was assembled without metal," Bernard told Sputnik.
Bernad added that carpenters of the time would often use deformations in tree trunks to make bent parts.
"The carpenters of 1150 were great craftsmen! ... We can do it again or repair such structures, but it will take a very long time, decades, and we need first to select an oak forest where the trees have grown at the same time and have the same characteristics. What happened is a disaster, shocking for us professionals of carpentry and specialists of restoration, because we know the time it takes to build such perfect structures," Bernard said.
"I am worried that the stones of the Gothic vaults are very damaged by the incredible fire on top of it. Stones don't burn of course, but can be very damaged by fire. The Gothic arched roof must be in a very bad state, and might need to be disassembled to be rebuilt. It is a tragedy," Van Den Bossche told Sputnik.