HERO firefighters saved Notre Dame from total destruction in a vital 30 minute battle with the blaze.
They somehow prevented the iconic landmark from collapsing after staff at the cathedral took 23 MINUTES to even find the fire, it has emerged.
Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that workers were unable to find the rampaging fire after an alarm sounded at 6.20pm on Monday. It was only when a second alert sounded at 6.43pm that the blaze was discovered on the Gothic roof.
As the flames were finally extinguished after eight hours’ destruction, prosecutors in Paris began a criminal investigation into the cause of the raging inferno.
Public prosecutor Heitz said the fire at the 850-year-old building was probably the result of an accident and there was no sign it was started deliberately.
“We are favouring the theory of an accident,” he said, adding that 50 people were working on a “long” and “complex” probe.
He said they would be interviewing workers from five companies that had been hired to work on renovations to the cathedral’s roof, which was where the fire is thought to have started.
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR:
This comes as French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to restore the famous church to its former glory within five years.
Addressing the nation, he said: “We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years. We can do it.
“It is up to us to change this disaster into an opportunity to come together, having deeply reflected on what we have been and what we have to be and become better than we are. It is up to us to find the thread of our national project.”
But after the blaze was finally brought under control, many on Twitter turned their anger towards those responsible for the disaster.
“This is unacceptable, one of the most historic cathedrals in human history burning to the ground, a landmark, an icon,” wrote one user.
“I can only hope that the immolation was natural because if it is found that the blaze was caused by some idiot it’ll be disgusting beyond belief.”
Another added: “This is unacceptable. Whoever caused this deserves to rot.”
Others though appeared to have some sympathy for those responsible.
“In case it truly was an accident that caused the fire, we should pray for the person who made the mistake that started it all,” read one post.
“Can you imagine being the guy who accidentally burned down Notre Dame and how horrific that would be? He’s going to need prayers. Lots of them.”
The police probe is currently focused on Le Bras Freres (Le Bras Brothers), a company based in Jarny, in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department of north-eastern France.
Some of its 200 specialist employees were working on the wooden and lead spire of Notre Dame Cathedral that collapsed on Monday evening after the fire broke out on the roof at 6.45pm.
“Many of these restorers were interviewed overnight,” said a source close to the investigation that has been opened into ‘accidental destruction by fire’.
“The fear is that a small fire began in the rood where they were working, and quickly spread across the building.
“The irony is that the restorers had just begun working on the spire which collapsed along with much of the roof.”
Le Bras Freres is one of the most respected companies of its kind and last year finished a widespread restoration programme of Reims Cathedral in eastern France.
It had won the contract to restore the Notre Dame spire that was designed by the architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and erected in 1859.
It has emerged that Julien Le Bras, the boss of Le Bras Freres, boasted about his firm’s expertise in dealing with historic buildings.
In a video posted online when the 32-year-old Le Bras said: “We are proud of our work on historic buildings.
“We have the technical ability and the competence for his work. Our first thought is to protect the values of historical buildings, it’s in our DNA.”
However, after the fire he said the company had 12 workers involved in the refurbishment and that none of them were on site at the time of the disaster.
They were due to be on site for up to four years along with Europe Scaffolding, another company which had just put 250 tons of scaffolding around Notre Dame, along with a lift that could move up and down the 300ft spire.
On Tuesday morning Julien Le Bras, the chief executive of the Bras Brothers, said he had no initial comment on the enquiry.
It will focus on the equipment being used by the restorers in a medieval cathedral where light and power sources were limited.
In such circumstances, cables and wires have to be attached to dozens of generators, and hoisted high up on to the building.
Paris prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation, and have not yet ruled out any theories for the start of the fire, which blazed from 6.50pm on Monday until 3am on Tuesday.
ONE FIRE FIGHTER INJURED
Stories of the 400 firefighters’ heroism in saving the cathedral’s priceless relics have emerged.
They include Jean-Marc Fournier, Chaplain of the Paris Firefighters, who risked his life to by running into the burning cathedral.
Among the most precious is a relic venerated as the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus Christ – considered Paris’s equivalent of the Crown Jewels – and its three stained-glass rose windows.
An unidentified fire fighter was the only human casualty of the blaze, and he was today in hospital with “non life threatening injuries,” said a spokesman for the Paris emergency services.
He confirmed that when the fire broke out, the cathedral’s alarms started and the visitors inside Notre Dame were quickly evacuated.
Andre Finot, communication manager of the Cathedral said: “At the moment, we don’t know why the cathedral caught fire.
“Normally, there should be no more workers on the site because they are supposed to stop between 5pm and 5:30pm at the latest. But we are not sure there was no one left on the site”.
Mr Finot confirmed that a 100m crane had just been deployed to take 16 copper statues depicting Apostles and Evangelists off the roof, and all had been saved.
Olivier De Chalus, the head of volunteer guides at the Cathedral, said: “The fire left the attic, and then spread extremely fast to a large part of the roof.
“The flames devoured the wooden structure that we call the Forest because of the large number of beams that are all made from single trees.”
It came as French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault, who is married to Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, pledged €100 million (£86.2 million) towards the rebuilding of the Cathedral.
MACRON VOWS TO REBUILD
French President Emmanuel Macron has also vowed to rebuild Notre Dame with help from the international community.
Mr Macron said a national fundraising campaign to restore the historic building would be launched on Tuesday, and he called on the world’s “greatest talents” to help.
The French leader credited the “courage” and “great professionalism” of firefighters with saving Notre Dame’s spectacular Gothic facade and two landmark towers from being destroyed, saying “the worst has been avoided”.
“We have been dealt a knockout blow,” a grief-stricken Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit said at the scene.
The blaze broke out just before 7pm local time in a roof area undergoing around £6m of renovations.
More than 400 firefighters battled the flames, which quickly spread along the roof, causing burning timbers to collapse onto the ceiling of the vault below.
At around 3am local time, Paris fire brigade chief Jean-Claude Gallet said: “We can consider that the main structure of Notre-Dame has been saved and preserved as well as the two towers.”
And a brigade spokesman added: “We will continue to watch over any residual pockets of fire and cool down the areas that are still red-hot, like the wooden beam framework.”
Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said: “Thank you to the Paris fire brigade, policemen and the municipal agents who have made this evening a tremendous human chain to save the works of Notre Dame.
“The Crown of Thorns, the tunic of Saint Louis and several other major works are now in a safe place.”
Priceless works that couldn’t be moved fared less well. Firefighters told how the building’s stained-glass rose windows, high on the north, west and south faces of the cathedral, “exploded” in the heat of the inferno.
“They exploded because of the heat of the blaze,” said one, referring to the Rosette West, which was created in 1225, the Rosette North and the Rossette South, both from 1250.
The Vatican expressed its “incredulity” and “sadness” over the fire and offered prayers for firefighters tackling the blaze and solidarity with the French people.
In Washington, Donald Trump tweeted: “So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent the best wishes of the Anglican church to people at the scene. “Tonight we pray for the firefighters tackling the tragic Notre Dame fire – and for everyone in France and beyond who watches and weeps for this beautiful, sacred place where millions have met with Jesus Christ,” he said.
The Queen sent a message to President Macron that said: “Prince Philip and I have been deeply saddened to see the images of the fire which has engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral.
“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.”
The message was signed: “Elizabeth R.”
And British Prime Minister Theresa May added: “My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze.”
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