The fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been fully extinguished, firefighters said, as experts and architects met to assess the damage and establish whether the historic monument was stable.
Investigators were also keen to examine the building to establish the cause of the catastrophic blaze. The Paris prosecutor has opened an inquiry into “involuntary destruction by fire”.
Officers will want to question teams of workmen carrying out renovations on the cathedral when the fire broke out.
Laurent Nuñes, a junior interior minister, said the immediate danger was under control, but it was not known to what extent the fire had weakened the structure of the Gothic edifice.
“Now the fire danger has been dealt with, there is the issue of the building, and whether the structure has resisted this very serious fire,” Nuñes said.
He added that part of the stone vault ceiling had collapsed, but the main structure had survived. For the 400 firefighters who battled the flames as they consumed the cathedral’s ribbed roof, made up of hundreds of oak beams some dating back to the 13th century and measuring up to 110 metres long, known as “le forêt” (the forest), the priority was preventing the raging fire, stoked by wind, from reaching the two Gothic towers, or belfries, on the west facade.
As well as damage from the heat, which firefighters say reached more than 800C, experts also need to assess damage from the vast quantities of water firefighters poured into the cathedral.
“A meeting of experts and national architects is taking place this morning to consider whether the building is stable and whether fire officers can set up inside to continue their work,” the minister added.
Franck Riester, France’s culture minister, said: “The principal structure is saved, but the situation is still precarious. We’re optimistic because the two belfries were saved.”
The fire broke out at about 6.45pm local time on Monday evening in the roof space of Notre Dame, which was surrounded by scaffolding. The flames took hold and spread quickly to the 93-metre-high spire, which then buckled and fell through the roof. It took firefighters more than four hours to bring the blaze under control and prevent it spreading to the main towers.
Fire officers saved a number of treasures inside the cathedral, which draws an estimated 14 million visitors a year, including religious relics and smaller works of art. There were conflicting reports over the fate of the 13th-century stained glass “rose” windows and the cathedral’s celebrated organ.
Monseigneur Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris, said there was a global “love for this extraordinary cathedral”.
“When we arrived yesterday evening, we wanted to cry and people were crying around us,” he said. “Notre Dame is a symbol, more than a symbol it is the soul of France.”
“Notre Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité , centre of Paris, is charged with history with events through the centuries. It draws people, they come to look and they respect the place and they come to pray,” he told BFMTV.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who was at the scene of the fire on Monday evening, promised an immediate fundraising campaign would be launched as well as an appeal to international experts to help rebuild Notre Dame.
Two of the country’s richest tycoons both pledged millions to the fund. François Pinault, the head of the luxury group Kering, which owns fashion labels including Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Gucci, immediately pledged €100m from his family’s fortune. Shortly afterwards, Bernard Arnault, the owner of the group Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy declared he would donate €200m.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, called for a “donors conference”, not only to raise money for the reconstruction but to involve experts from around the world.