Massive fire engulfs historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; towers declared safe from blaze

PARIS -- The spire atop the iconic Notre Dame cathedral collapsed amid a devastating fire at the Paris cathedral on Monday, just days before Easter Sunday.

Images and video showed flames and thick plumes of smoke billowing up and around the spire, which is surrounded by scaffolding. Video from the scene showed the flaming spire lean to one side and then collapse amid the smoke.

The fire rapidly spread and took over the iconic cathedral as onlookers nearby scrambled in disbelief to get a view. Seven or eight firetrucks were trying to tackle the flames and the smell of smoke emanated through the air.

The firetrucks were having difficulty getting to the scene amid the daily afternoon rush hour. Police said on Twitter the public should avoid the area and allow emergency vehicles into the scene.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the fire brigade is trying to control a "terrible fire" that's broken out at Notre Dame Cathedral.

On Twitter, Hidalgo said: "A terrible fire is underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The fire brigade are trying to control the fire. We are mobilized locally in close connection with church authorities. I ask everyone to respect the security perimeter."

A French official and the Paris fire chief say they think Notre Dame Cathedral's landmark rectangular towers have been saved from the fire. Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said late Monday that authorities remain "prudent" but are "much more optimistic" than earlier in the night.

Paris fire commander Jean-Claude Gallet said a major accomplishment of hundreds of firefighters was stopping the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry.

Gallet says two-thirds of Notre Dame's roofing "has been ravaged." He says one firefighter was injured.

The medieval cathedral was completed in the 13th century and today, with its towers, spire, flying buttresses and stained glass, is considered a feat of architecture as much as a religious symbol.

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.

It was not immediately known what caused the fire.

The cathedral has been surrounded by scaffolding and was under construction, as the below photo from last Thursday shows.

French President Emmanuel Macron postponed a planned speech Monday night because of the Notre Dame fire, a spokesperson for the Elysee Palace says.

President Trump responded to the fire in a tweet.

"So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Perhaps flying water tankers could be used to put it out. Must act quickly!"

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