The huge blaze that has devastated Notre Dame cathedral in Paris has been put out, the city’s fire service announced on Tuesday, around 15 hours after it first broke out.
“The whole fire has been extinguished. Now we’re in the phase of investigating,” spokesman Gabriel Plus told reporters, adding that the fire had spread “very quickly” through the wooden roof of the world-renowned monument.
Briefing reporters in front of Notre Dame in central Paris, Plus said firefighters had focused during the morning on the cathedral’s two massive bell towers and making sure they had not been damaged.
“That is the case,” he said.
The task now is to monitor the structure, to see if it has moved at all and to put out remaining hot spots, he said, adding that about 100 firemen will remain on site for the whole day.
On Tuesday, the extent of the damage caused by the massive blaze became clear: The monument immortalized in Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a building that had survived almost 900 years of tumultuous French history, was left a blackened shell.
The two iconic 69-meter bell towers remained intact and swarmed with building specialists and architects at dawn, looking tiny from the ground as they conducted analysis. The cathedral’s spire and roof were gone, however.
Philippe Marsset, the vicar general of Notre Dame, was among the first to enter the storied Gothic cathedral whose sculpted arches have been scorched by smoke and pews destroyed.
“It felt like I was looking at a bombing,” Marsset said of the church where he was ordained a priest 31 years ago.
“It was hell,” he said, describing the moment when the blaze was discovered on the soaring roof shortly after evening mass ended shortly before 7 p.m. on Monday.
Church officials raced to remove as many artifacts, paintings and other cultural treasures they could before being evacuated by firefighters as they tried to stop the flames from spreading.
But the blaze kept springing up as globs of molten lead fell from the soaring heights of the church.
“All night long I saw men going past with tears in their eyes. I described it this way: It was total chaos, but we can’t let it knock us down,” Marsset said.
“This church was built 850 years ago. It withstood the wars, it withstood the bombings, it resisted everything,” he said.
Yet not all was lost: the crucifix standing over the main altar was one of several objects which escaped destruction.
On the banks of the river Seine, hundreds of Parisians and tourists stopped by on Tuesday morning to take pictures or gaze at the disaster site, many still stunned by the damage.
“I’m devastated, even if I haven’t been a Catholic for a long time,” 88-year-old Claire told AFP at the scene on Tuesday morning. “I was baptized here.”
Officials consider the fire an accident, possibly as a result of restoration work taking place at the global architectural treasure, but that news has done nothing to ease the national mourning.
French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to rebuild the cathedral that he called “a part of us” and appealed for help to do so.