The next hour and a half will be crucial to efforts to save what remains of the Notre Dame Cathedral, said Jean-Claude Gallet, commander general of the Paris Fire Brigade.
“We need to win this battle and block the spreading of the flames. The most efficient action is from the inside. We are not sure if we will be able to stop the spreading of the flames to the North Tower," he said.
He said the initial call to emergency services notified authorities of a fire in the attic of the cathedral, although the cause of the blaze is unknown.
“We are evacuating the most precious artwork that is being sheltered,” Gallet said.
The spire atop the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris collapsed Monday evening during a massive blaze.
The flaming spire, which was surrounded by scaffolding, leaned to one side and then collapsed onto the burning roof. The fire rapidly spread and took over the iconic cathedral.
The collapse drew gasps from a crowd watching nearby. They were joined by somber people who had come to recognize the landmark as a symbol of Paris.
Here's what we know about Notre Dame:
- The cathedral: Notre Dame's foundation stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, and the cathedral was completed in the 13th century. Today, with its towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass, Notre Dame is considered a feat of architecture, as well as a major religious and cultural symbol of France.
- The central spire: It was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, partly buoyed by the success of Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" in 1831.
- The cathedral draws millions of visitors: Located in Île de la Cité, a small island in the middle of the city, the cathedral is one of Paris' most popular attractions, drawing an estimated 13 million visitors a year.
The Vatican has released the following statement in response to the Notre Dame fire:
“The Holy See has learned with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, symbol of Christianity, in France and in the world. We express our closeness to the French Catholic and to the people of Paris. We pray for the fire fighters and for all those who are doing everything possible to face this dramatic situation.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May just tweeted about the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral:
The French civil security agency, Sécurité Civile, has responded to US President Donald Trump’s suggestion that “flying water tankers” should be used to fight the Notre Dame fire.
The agency tweeted, “The drop of water by air on this type of building could indeed result in the collapse of the entire structure.”
“The weight of the water and the intensity of the drop at low altitude could indeed weaken the structure of Notre-Dame and result in collateral damage to the buildings in the vicinity,” it said.
The civil security agency is part of the Interior Ministry.
Earlier today, Trump had said on Twitter, “Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, shared his shock and sadness, calling the cathedral "a world treasure."
In a statement to the people of Paris, DiNardo said the cathedral has "long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God."
Read his full statement:
“The horrific fire that is engulfing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is shocking and saddens us all, for this particular cathedral is not only a majestic Church, it is also a world treasure. Noble in architecture and art, it has long been a symbol of the transcendent human spirit as well as our longing for God. Our hearts go out to the Archbishop and the people of Paris, and we pray for all the people of France, entrusting all to the prayers and intercession of the Mother of God, especially the firefighters battling the fire. We are a people of hope and of the resurrection, and as devastating as this fire is, I know that the faith and love embodied by this magnificent Cathedral will grow stronger in the hearts of all Christians.”
As evening falls in Paris, crowds are still gathered near Notre Dame as the historic cathedral burns.
A witness earlier in the day had described an eerie silence; now, the crowd has begun to sing hymns together, many on their knees.
Watch it here:
Thibaud Binétruy, who lives in Paris, just told CNN of what it was like when the spire fell:
"I was walking home with a colleague. We were walking (on) Rue des Carmes. And we saw the smoke. I couldn’t stop staring at it, so I took some pics. When the spire fell, the crowd reacted with 'ohhh' and 'ahh,' but I guess most of them were just shocked, silently. It’s awful to see such a symbol disappearing in front of you. It’s been there for so many years and in a few minutes half of it disappears... crazy. Paris without Notre Dame...madness."
The French Interior Ministry said 400 firefighters have been mobilized to deal with the Notre Dame blaze. The cathedral's iconic spire collapsed earlier this evening. The central spire was built in the 19th century amid a broad restoration effort, partly buoyed by the success of Victor Hugo's novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" in 1831.