Monday 20 May 2019

Electrical short-circuit 'most likely cause of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire' - police

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Investigators think an electrical short-circuit was the most likely cause of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, a police official said.

The statement comes as France pays a day-long tribute to the Paris firefighters who saved the famous Notre Dame Cathedral from collapse and rescued its treasures from a devastating fire.

President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving fire at Notre Dame for nine hours, preventing the structure’s destruction and rescuing many of the important relics held inside.

"We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organised in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organisation," Mr Macron said.

"The worst has been avoided."

Mr Macron said the firefighters will receive a medal for their courage and devotion.

Smoke billows from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Carriat
Smoke billows from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Carriat

The roof was destroyed, but Notre Dame’s famous bell towers, rose windows, organ, and precious artworks were saved.

Fire officials warned that the building remains very fragile and extremely dangerous for construction workers, restoration experts and neighbours.

Police, citing “important risks” of collapse and falling objects, officially closed a large swathe of the island in the Seine River on which Notre Dame sits. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.

Workers using a crane were removing some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, and to keep them from falling, since the section lacked the support of the massive timber roof that burned in the devastating blaze.

French President Emmanuel Macron walks near the Notre Dame Cathedral as its burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
French President Emmanuel Macron walks near the Notre Dame Cathedral as its burns in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
The Notre Dame Cathedral spire collapses during a fire in Paris, France April 15, 2019 in this still image taken from social media video. Twitter/@H_MISER via REUTERS
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
Handout video grab taken from the Twitter feed of @leistomania93 of smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. @leistomania93/PA Wire
Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Smoke billows from the Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France, April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Carriat
Handout video grab taken from the Twitter feed of @AshhHuntington of smoke and flames coming from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Ashley Huntington/Mercedes Girona/PA Wire
Notre Dame cathedral is burning in Paris, Monday, April 15, 2019. Massive plumes of yellow brown smoke is filling the air above Notre Dame Cathedral and ash is falling on tourists and others around the island that marks the center of Paris. (AP Photo/Lori Hinant)
A still image taken from a video shows flames and thick smoke billowing from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
Smoke billows from Notre Dame Cathedral after a fire broke out, in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
A still image taken from a video shows flames and thick smoke billowing from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019 afternoon, potentially involving renovation works being carried out at the site, the fire service said. (Photo by FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP)FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15, 2019.PIERRE GALEY/AFP/Getty Images
Smokes ascends as flames rise during a fire at the landmark Notre-Dame Cathedral in central Paris on April 15, 2019. FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images

They were also securing the support structure above one of Notre Dame’s rose windows with wooden planks.

Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which began during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.

Among the firefighters honoured was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who said he was falsely credited with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.

The chaplain said a team of rescuers broke the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code to unlock the protection finished the job.

Among others honoured was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged.

Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the site for hours for just this moment.

"We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity," she told reporters. "It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly."

Investigators are now questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.

The building would have burned to the ground in a "chain-reaction collapse" had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, said José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry.

Mr Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts say the vast scale of the work to be done could easily take 15 years.

Press Association

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