Flames rise from the Notre-Dame Cathedral.—AFP
Flames rise from the Notre-Dame Cathedral.—AFP

PARIS: A colossal fire swept through the famed Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on Monday, causing a spire to collapse and raising fears over the future of the nearly millenium old building and its precious artworks.

The fire, which began in the early evening, sent flames and huge clouds of grey smoke billowing into the Paris sky as stunned Parisians and tourists watched on in sheer horror.

The cause of the blaze was not immediately confirmed but the cathedral had been undergoing intense restoration work to help the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece better deal with the tests of time.

The flames and smoke plumed from the spire and roof of the cathedral, visited by millions of people a year.

Deputy Paris mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told BFM TV the spire “collapsed inwards” and that workers were scrambling “to save all the artworks that can be saved.” A spokesman for the cathedral said that the wooden structure supporting the roof was being gutted by the blaze.

“Everything is burning,” the spokesman for Notre Dame, Andre Finot, said.

The fire service said the blaze could be “potentially linked” to ongoing renovations.

President Emmanuel Macron cancelled a major televised policy speech he was due to give on Monday evening over the “terrible fire ravaging Notre-Dame.” He was to head to the scene in person, the Elysee announced.

In a tweet he expressed the “emotion of a whole nation” on seeing Notre-Dame ablaze.

“Like all my compatriots I am sad to see a part of us burn this evening” he said, expressing solidarity with “all Catholics and all French people.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Notre-Dame cathedral a “symbol of European culture” as the blaze raged.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo in a tweet described it as a “terrible fire”.

Vast clouds of grey-white smoke billowed round the cathedral as yellow flames still licked the top of the building.

There was no immediate indication of any casualties in the blaze. “The Paris fire service is trying to control the flames,” Hidalgo wrote on Twitter.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2019