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#NotreDame -No sign of arson

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Billionaires, companies pledge donations for rebuild

A view shows Notre-Dame Cathedral after a massive fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris

PARIS, April 16 (Reuters) – The fire that tore through
Notre-Dame cathedral was probably caused by accident, French
prosecutors said on Tuesday after firefighters doused the last
flames in the ruins overnight and the nation grieved for the
destruction of one of its symbols.

More than 400 firemen were needed to tame the inferno that
consumed the roof and collapsed the spire of the
eight-centuries-old cathedral. They worked through the night to
extinguish the fire some 14 hours after it began.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious
indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what
would be a long and complex investigation. One firefighter was
injured but no one else was hurt in the blaze which began after
the building was closed to the public for the evening.

From the outside, the imposing bell towers and outer walls,
with their vast flying buttresses, still stood firm, but the
insides and the upper structure were eviscerated by the blaze.

Firefighters examined the gothic facade and could be seen
walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral’s
blackened nave until experts are satisfied its stone walls
withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

“Our job today is to monitor the structure and its
movements,” said fire service spokesman Gabriel Plus.

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral’s timbered
roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive
renovations to the spire’s wooden frame.

The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation into
“involuntary destruction by fire”. Police on Tuesday began
questioning the workers involved in the restoration, the
prosecutor’s office said.

Hundreds of stunned onlookers had lined the banks of the
Seine river late into the night as the fire raged, reciting
prayers and singing liturgical music in harmony as they stood in
vigil.

It was at Notre-Dame that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804,
Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909 and former presidents
Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand were mourned.

Messages of condolence flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, was praying
for those affected, the Vatican said, adding: “Notre-Dame will
always remain – and we have seen this in these hours – a place
where believers and non-believers can come together in dramatic
would always remain a symbol of French national unity.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth expressed deep sadness while her
son and heir Prince Charles said he was “utterly heartbroken”.

VOW TO REBUILD

President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild Notre-Dame,
considered among the finest examples of European Gothic
architecture, visited by more than 13 million people a year.

Notre-Dame is owned by the state. It has been at the centre
of a years-long row between the nation and the Paris archdiocese
over who should finance badly needed restoration work to
collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said
the heritage charity Fondation du Patrimoine, but it is likely
to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The rival billionaire owners of France’s two biggest luxury
fashion empires, Francois-Henri Pinault of Kering and Bernard
Arnault of LVMH, pledged 100 million euros and 200 million euros
to the restoration respectively. Oil company Total pledged 100
million. The city of Paris said it would provide 50 million.

Paolo Violini, a restoration specialist for Vatican museums,
said the pace at which the fire spread through the cathedral had
been stunning.

“We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply
because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years,
but the reality is they are very fragile,” Violini said.

HUMAN CHAIN

The company carrying out the renovation works when the blaze
broke out said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

“All I can tell you is that at the moment the fire began
none of my employees were on the site. We respected all
procedures,” Julien Le Bras, a representative of family firm Le
Bras Freres.

Officials breathed a sigh of relief that many relics and
artworks had been saved. At one point, firefighters, policemen
and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the
treasures, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from
reeds and gold, and the tunic believed to have been worn by
Saint Louis, a 13th century king of France.

“Notre-Dame was our sister, it is so sad, we are all
mourning,” said Parisian Olivier Lebib. “I have lived with her
for 40 years. Thank God that the stone structure has withstood
the fire.”
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Inti Landauro, Richard Lough,
Sarah White, Emmanuel Jarry and Luke Baker in Paris; Additional
reporting by Philip Pullela
Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Leigh Thomas, Raissa
Kasolowsky and Peter Graff)