Fire out at Notre-Dame, but much work ahead for destroyed cathedral

Firefighters in Paris declared success Tuesday morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The two 69-metre bell towers remained intact, and they were swarmed with building specialists and architects at dawn, looking tiny from the ground as they analyzed the damage. The cathedral’s spire and roof were gone, however.

Paris firefighters spokesperson Gabriel Plus said “the entire fire is out” and that emergency services were “surveying the movement of the structures and extinguishing smouldering residues.”

“The task overnight was to bring the fire under control so it doesn’t restart,” said junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez in front of the cathedral.

“The task is — now the risk of fire has been put aside — about the building, how the structure will resist,” he continued.

Watch as flames engulf the iconic cathedral:

Firefighters in Paris battled for over 12 hours to extinguish an inferno engulfing the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral. 1:52

The French Bishops Conference said that the bells of all cathedrals across the country will ring on Wednesday at 6:50 p.m. local time (12:50 p.m. ET), the time when the fire started Monday at Notre Dame in Paris.

The Bishops Conference said Tuesday in a statement that this will show the solidarity of all dioceses toward Paris and that the fire at Notre Dame “is a shock that affects far beyond just the Catholics of our country.”

Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz said there’s no evidence of arson in the fire and that officials are working on the assumption that the blaze was an accident. He expects the investigation will be “long and complex.”

Speaking Tuesday, after the blaze was put out, he said 50 investigators are working on the probe. He said they will be interviewing workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral’s roof, which was being repaired before the fire and which is where the flames first broke out.

Watch as firefighters inspect the damage inside Notre-Dame:

Footage from French TV showed the debris and a burning hole in the roof of Notre-Dame after a massive fire consumed the cathedral. 0:42

Artworks that were evacuated from the cathedral during the blaze will be transferred to the Louvre Museum according to France’s culture minister.

The artifacts — which include relics such as the crown of thorns believed in the Christian faith to have been worn by Jesus Christ when he was crucified and French king St. Louis’s 13th century tunic — were first moved to the city town hall, Franck Riester told reporters.

As well, Paris’s deputy mayor said Notre-Dame’s organ, among the world’s most famous and biggest, remains intact after the fire. The impressive organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by FrancoisThierry. It boasts an estimated 8,000 pipes.

Emmanuel Gregoire told BFMTV Tuesday that a plan to protect Notre Dame’s treasures was rapidly and successfully activated. Gregoire also described “enormous relief” at the salvaging of pieces such as the purported Crown of Christ.

French businessman François-Henri Pinault, left, is pictured beside his wife, actor Salma Hayek. Pinault said he and his billionaire father were immediately giving 100 million euro (more than $150 million Cdn) from their company to help finance repairs to Notre-Dame. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Pledges to rebuild ‘jewel of our heritage’

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us” and appealed for help to do so.

As the country woke up in collective sadness, its richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods group LVMH answered this call with a pledge of €200 million (more than $300 million Cdn).

A communiqué said that the Arnault family were “in solidarity with this national tragedy, and join in the reconstruction of this extraordinary cathedral, a symbol of France, of its heritage and togetherness.”

Businessman François-Henri Pinault and his billionaire father François Pinault also said they were immediately giving €100 million (more than $150 million Cdn) from their company, Artemis, to help finance repairs.

Some of the saved treasures from Notre-Dame Cathedral are being stored in a room at Paris’s city hall. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

François-Henri Pinault said in a statement, “This tragedy impacts all French people” and “everyone wants to restore life as quickly as possible to this jewel of our heritage.”

Patrick Pouyanne, chief executive officer of French oil and gas company Total, said the multinational will make a contribution of €100 million to the reconstruction efforts. 

French luxury and cosmetics group L’Oreal, along with the Bettencourt Meyers family and the Bettencourt Schueller foundation, said they would donate €200 million (more than $300 million Cdn) in total for repairs.

The 12th century church is home to relics, stained glass and other works of art of incalculable value, and is a leading tourist attraction.

Pope Francis said on Tuesday that he shared the sadness of the French people mourning the devastation and hoped it would be restored to remain a symbol of the faith of their forebearers.

“This disaster seriously damaged a historic building. But I realize that it has also affected a national symbol dear to the hearts of Parisians and French in the diversity of their convictions,” Francis said in a message to the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit.

The Vatican’s culture minister said the Holy See is willing to offer technical restoration know-how to help rebuild and restore the devastated cathedral.

“I think one of the greatest contributions the Holy See can make … will be above a technical one because we have, for example, the Vatican Museums,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi told reporters.

“We have the type of know-how that the whole world recognizes as being of a high quality. That is why I think an eventual future offer by the Holy See will be significant. We could take part in some specific areas [of restoration.]”

The local prosecutor’s office says the massive fire is being treated as an accident for now. (Julie Carriat/Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth sent a message to Macron to say she was deeply saddened by the fire and that her prayers were with all of France, Buckingham Palace said.

“Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre-Dame Cathedral,” her message said.

“I extend my sincere admiration to the emergency services who have risked their lives to try to save this important national monument. My thoughts and prayers are with those who worship at the cathedral and all of France at this difficult time.”

Elizabeth’s oldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he too was “utterly heartbroken” to learn of the fire.

EU pledges support to ‘wounded’ city

The devastation was a blow to all of Europe, and all Europe will contribute to its rebuilding, leaders of the European Union declared on Tuesday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

“Europe has been wounded. France has been wounded. Paris has been wounded,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told lawmakers, promising EU “solidarity.”

EU chief Donald Tusk called on the bloc’s member countries to help France rebuild, saying the site in Paris is a symbol of what binds Europe together.

Tusk, who chairs summits of EU national leaders, told lawmakers Tuesday that the blaze reminds Europeans of “how much we can lose.”

“At stake here is something more than just material help,” Tusk said. “The burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral has again made us aware that we are bound by something more important and more profound than treaties.”

Parliament President Antonio Tajani invited EU lawmakers to contribute their day’s salary to help finance reconstruction.

Meanwhile, Macron’s European election campaign was suspended for now following the fire, said French politician Nathalie Loiseau, who is spearheading the campaign.

“We are all going through a moment of extreme sadness. The ‘Renaissance’ list is understandably part of this moment of national unity. We are therefore suspending the campaign until further notice,” Loiseau wrote on Twitter.

Macron’s ruling LREM party has put up candidates for the EU election under a list called “Renaissance.”

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