PARIS – A great fire broke out at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris on Monday night, which led some of the historic church's spire to collapse as the fire spread along its roof.
André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said in a phone call that the cause of the fire was unknown, and there was no direct indication that anyone had been injured.
"It's not about faith – Notre-Dame is a symbol of France," said Emmanuel Guary, a 31-year-old actor who was among a large audience gathered at Rue Rivoli, on the right. Many had tears in their eyes.
The fire alarm went off outside around 6:30, Finot said, adding that the cathedral had been evacuated. The Paris Prosecutor's Office said it had opened an investigation.
When the last tourists tried to come in for the day, the Notre-Dames doors were suddenly closed without explanation, witnesses said.
Within moments, small pieces of white smoke began to rise from the tip. Because the smoke began to turn gray, then black, it became clear that a fire grew inside the cathedral, which is currently covered with scaffolding. Soon, the orange flames began to emerge from the tip and increased rapidly in intensity.
The French police rushed in and started blowing whistles and told everyone to move back, witnesses said. Then the flames were tough and knocked out of several parts of the cathedral. Tourists and residents stop and pull out their phones to call their loved ones. Older Paris began to cry and regretted how their national treasure was quickly lost.
Thousands stood by the River Seine and looked in shock when the fire tore through the cathedral's wooden roof and took down some of the tip. Video filmed by spectators and shared on social media showed that the smoke and flames wobbled from the top of the cathedral.
Vincent Dunn, fire service consultant and former New York City fire chief, said fire hoses could not reach the top of such a cathedral, and reaching the top on foot was often a difficult climb over winding steps.
"These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn," he said. "If they were not houses of worship, they would be doomed."
Mayor Anne Hidalgo in Paris said on Twitter that "a terrible fire" had settled at the cathedral.
"Paris firefighters are currently trying to stop the flames," Hidalgo said. "I ask everyone to respect the security limits."
Firefighters were on site, said Mr Finot, who was about 70 meters from the cathedral.
Paris police warned people to stay away from the area around the cathedral, which is one of the city's most famous landmarks, draws about 13 million visitors a year.
Built in the 12th and 14th century, the cathedral is currently extensive renovation work. Last week, several statues were lifted with a crane from the tip.
"It hurts to see this. The cathedral is the symbol, the heart of Paris," said Pierre-Eric Trimovillas, 32. The crowd held and cried in the horror when germination fell, Trimovillas said, adding: "Paris is beheaded."
Angelique de Almeida, 32, watched the fire through tears. "We're going to lose her, everything is up in flames," she said. "We are losing this, we are losing Paris. It's apocalyptic. And this is the holy week."
Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College in New York, said that construction work and renovation have long been a dangerous combination.
"There is a history of churches and synagogues and other houses of worship afflicted with building fires," he said.
One of the reasons for the danger, Corbett said, was the proximity of open flames to torches, sparks from welders and other scaffolding to other flammable materials. As Notre-Dames wooden ceilings, these materials are often high and difficult to reach with fire fighting methods such as water from hoses.
Mr. Corbett quoted what he called the "disastrous" fire and the central synagogue on New York's 1998 avenue, which began work on the air conditioning system.
President Emmanuel Macron in France interrupted a large speech scheduled for Monday in the evening, announcing actions aimed at the red western protest movement that has rusted the country in recent months.
Mr. Macron said on Twitter that "like all our citizens, I am sad tonight to see this part of us burn."