A devastating fire that caused extensive damage to France's legendary Notre Dame cathedral may have been the result of something as simple as a lit cigarette or a faulty electrical connection, according to a report released Thursday by French authorities.
CNN reports that French prosecutors who are leading the investigation into what caused the blaze that claimed the cathedral's hundred-year-old spire, as well as most of its original roof (but, thankfully, spared the sanctuary and much of the cathedral's sacred art), have released their preliminary findings, which indicate that they believe the fire was an accident.
After interviewing more than 100 witnesses and inspecting 1,200 clues, prosecutors say they could find "no evidence" that the fire was set deliberately, and will, instead, be considering whether the blaze was the result of "negligence," perhaps on the part of a construction company hired to make historical renovations to the cathedral's roof and spire.
"If certain failings — which may explain the scale of the fire — have been brought to light, the investigations carried out to this date have not been able to determine the causes of the fire," the lead prosecutor told media Thursday. Instead, the investigation will focus "on the grounds of involuntary damage by fire due to a manifestly deliberate breach of a duty of care or safety imposed by law or regulation, which occurred under conditions likely to expose persons to bodily harm."
Although the prosecutors couldn't settle on a direct cause for the fire — they are still working backward through the wreckage to find the point where the incident actually began — they say the most likely culprit is a lit cigarette or cigarette butt, followed by a faulty electrical connection.
At the time of the fire, Notre Dame was undergoing a historical reconstruction project designed to refurbish the cathedral's back end, roof, and spire, and nearly half of Notre Dame's roof was covered in scaffolding. Workers, though, had reportedly gone home for the evening when the fire started somewhere on the roof toward the rear of the building. The blaze spread across Notre Dame's roof, consuming most of the structure's high wooden ballasts and collapsing the church's spire.
By some miracle, the fire was put out before it could damage most of the church, and inspectors believe that Notre Dame's basic structure is still sound. Mass was held inside the cathedral for the first time last week (though the celebrants had to wear construction helmets).
Chasing down the cause of the fire, is, apparently, no easy task. According to the Huffington Post, investigators had to comb through endless evidence, and workers were required to disassemble around 50,000 tubes of scaffolding leftover from the former renovation project.
But even as the investigation continues, the French government says, work will begin on restoring Notre Dame to its former glory. French President Emmanuel Macron is adamant that the cathedral will be good as new by 2024, when Paris plays host to the Summer Olympics. Work is expected to begin in spring of 2020.
Wealthy French citizens are expected to finance most of the renovation project (they've already pledged billions), but so far, only a handful of benefactors have actually issued checks. Most say they are waiting to find out what the renovation will actually look like and how their money will be spent. Those questions are expected to be settled over the summer in the French legislature.