Notre Dame Cathedral fire – a visual guide and timeline

How the devastating fire at the historic monument in the heart of Paris took hold and spread

6.20pm, Monday 15 April

An alarm sounds during mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The public prosecutor, Rémy Heitz, says later it is unclear whether it was a smoke or a heat alarm. The priest hesitates, then continues with the service, believing it may be a false alarm. But although no sign of fire was found, the 850-year-old building was evacuated as a precautionary measure. At 6.43pm, a second alarm went off: fire declared.


Smoke plume clearly visible from afar. Photos start circulating on social media and crowds gather on left and right banks of River Seine as police seal off Île de la Cité and fire service arrives.

How the fire spread


The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, whose office is across river from the cathedral, tweets that “a terrible fire” is under way at Notre Dame. Police urge people to stay away. Firefighters say blaze is “potentially linked” to a 10-year, €150m restoration programme that began last year.


Donald Trump tweets that maybe “flying water tankers” could be used to put out the blaze (fire service later says cathedral’s structure would not stand weight of water). Élysée Palace says President Emmanuel Macron has cancelled planned 8pm TV address to nation.

Notre Dame soon after the fire began.
Notre Dame soon after the fire began. Photograph: Lahcene HABIB/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock


Macron heads to the scene as the Notre Dame spokesman, André Finot, says timber roof beams, dating from 13th and 19th centuries, are ablaze. Minutes later cathedral spire collapses.


Macron tweets that Notre Dame has “fallen prey to flames … Like all my compatriots, I am saddened this evening to see this part of us burning.”


Paris city hall says hundreds of firefighters are at the scene. The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, is outside the cathedral as world leaders, including Angela Merkel and Theresa May, express their sorrow.


Macron and his wife, Brigitte, arrive at the cathedral with the culture minister, Franck Riester, and a junior interior minister, Laurent Nunez. Crowds continue to grow in the streets around Île de la Cité. Some pray, others sing hymns, many cry.

Notre Dame as the fire spread.
Notre Dame as the fire spread. Photograph: Lahcene HABIB/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock


Paris public prosecutor announces investigation into cause of fire. It emerges that 16 priceless roof statues were saved from fire, having been removed last week for restoration. Several French media quote a firefighter as saying next 90 minutes will be critical for cathedral’s survival.


Fire reaches north tower, according to several witnesses. Authorities confirm no one has so far been killed or injured.

9:30pm: Firefighters douse the cathedral as flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof.
9:30pm: Firefighters douse the cathedral as flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof. Photograph: Chesnot/Getty Images


Fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet says despite presence of 400 firefighters, two helicopters and two water tenders (tankers) in the Seine, service is “not sure of being able to prevent the fire spreading to the north belfry. If that collapses, I will leave you to imagine the scale of the damage.” Philippe praises “heroic” firefighters and says “sorrow is beyond words”.

How the roof was constructed


The rector, Patrick Chauvet, says two of the cathedral’s most precious relics, the Crown of Thorns and the Tunic of St Louis, are among many priceless artefacts rescued from the blaze. One firefighter is reported injured.


Nunez says fire is becoming less intense. “We can consider that the edifice has been saved and in particular the north tower.” Fire service spokesman confirms “general structure of the cathedral has been saved”, although two-thirds of roof has been destroyed.

Notre Dame as night fell.
Notre Dame as night fell. Photograph: Lahcene HABIB/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock


At the request of the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, dozens of churches across the city ring bells to invite parishioners to pray for Notre Dame. As individuals launch online calls for donations to restore building, the French Heritage Foundation announces it is setting up a national appeal for funds.


Speaking outside the cathedral, Aupetit thanks firefighters who “risked their lives … and saved both towers”. He says all Paris churches are open for prayer: “We are all united together in this immense misfortune.”

Locator map


Macron thanks firefighters and says in widely praised address that Notre Dame is “our history, our literature, the epicentre of our life, the standard by which we measure our distances. It’s so many books, so many paintings. It’s the cathedral of every French person, even those who have never visited it. This history is ours. We will rebuild Notre Dame, because it is what the French people expect, it is what our history deserves, and it is our deep destiny.”

1.05-1.15am, Tuesday 16 April

Paris prosecutors say they are investigating a case of “involuntary destruction by fire” and interviewing workers on the restoration project. Fire appears to have started at height of scaffolding on roof. François-Henri Pinault announces his family, one of the richest in France, will donate €100m to the restoration appeal.


Fire service spokesman Gabriel Plus says the fire is “completely under control. It is partly extinguished, there remain residual fires to put out.”


Plus tells Agence France-Presse: “All the works of art that were in the ‘treasures’ area of the cathedral have been saved.” The cathedral housed priceless works of art, architecture, musical instruments, statues, woodwork and religious relics. While the north rose window, Holy Crown of Thorns, Tunic of St Louis, Nicolas Coustou’s sculpture Descent from the Cross, and the 8,000-pipe great organ are saved, the fate is unknown of the west and south rose windows, Madonna and Child statue and painting of St Thomas Aquinas.

Artefacts locator


Nunez says the “danger of the fire has been removed” but doubts remain about the stability of structure. Up to a dozen firefighters remain on the scene extinguishing embers.


Reister says the main structure has been saved but ”the situation is still precarious”. Two-thirds of the roof has gone and the spire collapsed into the nave, he says, leaving a gaping hole in the roof. Large parts of one transept collapsed overnight. “Everything’s very fragile; the firefighters and experts are anxious,” he says.

Notre Dame on Tuesday morning.
Notre Dame on Tuesday morning. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images


The fire service says the fire is entirely extinguished. “The next phase is the examination by experts,” says Plus, adding that the “violent fire … spread very rapidly across the whole of the roof, destroying roughly 1,000sq metres”. Another of France’s richest people, Bernard Arnault, of the luxury goods firm LVMH, announces a €200m donation to the appeal fund.

• The graphic in this article was amended on 18 April 2019. An earlier version referred to the 93-metre spire; it reached a height of 93 metres from the ground. It also erroneously stated that some of the wooden roof beams were 110 metres long.


Jon Henley in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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