Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday in a roaring blaze that devastated the Parisian landmark, a searing loss for the city and for France.
Flames that began in the early evening burst through the roof of the centuries-old cathedral and engulfed the spire, which collapsed, quickly followed by the entire roof.
A huge plume of smoke wafted across the city and ash fell over a large area. Parisians watched on, many of them lost for words.
“Like all our compatriots, I am sad this evening to see this part of all of us burn,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
“Basically the whole rooftop is gone. I see no hope for the building,” said witness Jacek Poltorak, watching the fire from a fifth-floor balcony two blocks from the southern facade of the cathedral, one of France’s most visited places.
Firefighters tried to contain the blaze with water hoses and cleared the area around Notre-Dame, which sits on an island in the River Seine and marks the very centre of Paris.
Buildings around were evacuated.
Nobody was injured, junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said at the scene, adding: “It’s too early to determine the causes of the fire.” France 2 television reported that police were treating it as an accident.
“Everything is collapsing,” a police officer near the scene said as the entire roof of the cathedral continued to burn.
Macron cancelled an address to the nation that he had been due to give later on Monday evening. A presidential official said Macron was to go to the scene of the blaze.
The cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo’s classic novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that attracts millions of tourists every year.
The Gothic cathedral is famed for its many carved stone gargoyles, stunning stained glass windows and the flying buttresses that hold up its walls.
“There are a lot of art works inside…it’s a real tragedy,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told reporters at the scene.
The cathedral was in the midst of renovations, with some sections under scaffolding and bronze statues were removed last week for works.
The wood and lead spire was built during a restoration in the mid-19th century, according to the cathedral’s website.