A fire has caused massive damage to the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, but firefighters say they have saved the building's two iconic towers and stone structure.
Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet told reporters outside the cathedral Monday night that "the main structure of Notre Dame has been saved and preserved." He said one firefighter was seriously injured trying to put out the huge blaze in the French capital.
The flames, which at one point burned upwards of 10 meters into the air, destroyed much of the cathedral's roof and caused its spire to collapse before firefighters brought the blaze under control.
A cathedral spokesman, Andre Finot, told French media earlier Monday that the entire wooden interior of the cathedral is likely to be destroyed.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked firefighters and police officers for helping to save holy objects and major works of art from the site of the 12th-century cathedral.
Merci aux @PompiersParis, aux policiers et aux agents municipaux qui ont réalisé ce soir une formidable chaîne humaine pour sauver les œuvres de #NotreDame. La couronne d%27épines, la tunique de Saint Louis et plusieurs autres œuvres majeures sont à présent en lieu sûr. pic.twitter.com/cbrGWCbL2N— Anne Hidalgo (@Anne_Hidalgo) April 15, 2019
"The worst has been avoided, even if the battle has not been totally won yet," French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at the cathedral shortly before midnight local time. He said he would launch a national fundraising campaign to rebuild the cathedral, and called on the world’s “greatest talents'' to help with the effort.
Firefighters continued to work through the night to cool some of the cathedral’s interior structures, which were still at risk of collapsing.
Is there anything firefighters could have done to control the blaze that tore through Paris' historic Notre Dame Cathedral sooner?
Experts say the combination of a structure that's more than 850 years old, built with heavy timber construction and soaring open spaces, and lacking sophisticated fire-protection systems left firefighters with devastatingly few options Monday once the flames got out of control.
"Very often when you're confronted with something like this, there's not much you can do," said Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College.
Fire hoses looked overmatched
Thousands of onlookers lined bridges over the River Seine late into the night to watch the scene and others gathered at the nearby Saint Julien Les Pauvres church to sing hymns and say prayers.
It is not clear what caused the blaze, although French media reported that fire officials said the blaze could be "potentially linked" to renovation work being done at the building.
Several sections of the building had been under scaffolding and officials say bronze statues were removed last week for the renovation.
The Paris prosecutor's office said it had launched an inquiry into the fire and said it was treating the blaze as an "involuntary" fire.
The Vatican released a statement expressing shock and sadness and called Notre Dame a "symbol of Christianity in France and in the world."
The fire came during Catholic Holy Week commemorations, and less than a week before Easter. An Easter Mass had been planned at the cathedral on Sunday.
Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit invited priests across France to ring church bells in a call for prayers.
Firefighters in Paris evacuated buildings nearby Notre Dame and cleared the area around the cathedral as ash fell over the surrounding blocks.
Witnesses said firetrucks sped to the area after the fire broke out shortly before 7 p.m. local time.
The medieval Catholic cathedral is one of the most visited historical monuments in Europe, welcoming millions of people each year. It dates to the 12th century and is famous for featuring in Victor Hugo's classic novel, "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame."
Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the River Seine, the building is known for its stone gargoyles, stained glass windows and the iconic flying buttresses that hold up its walls.