Just a little less than 24 hours after a blaze ripped through Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris prosecutors are saying the fire was likely an accident, not arson, and that the construction company in charge of a $5.6 million renovation to the cathedral’s roof and spire will be under the microscope.
Reuters reports that prosecutors will continue to explore all possible explanations for the fire, which collapsed two-thirds of the cathedral’s roof and left both the choir and the nave heavily damaged, and that fifty individuals have been assigned to investigate all aspects of the incident. Prosecutors are, so far, calling the case “involuntary destruction by fire.”
On Tuesday, Reuters continues, French police noted that they’ve started to question workers who were making repairs to the cathedral’s roof after it had closed for the night, around 5:00pm local time. Workers were supposed to be gone by 5:30. A heat sensitive alarm went off around 6:20pm local time, according to the Daily Beast. An official fire alarm went off around 20 minutes later, at which point the blaze had already broken out.
Investigators anticipate that the probe will be “long and complicated,” especially since much of the building involved is now little more than a pile of ash, and is unlikely to produce any “material evidence” of what exactly went wrong. It still may be a while until investigators can enter the building; firefighters and French officials have closed off the space until building inspectors can be sure the cathedral’s stone facade is stable.
Five different construction companies are involved in the restoration project that likely started the fire, overseen by a 50-year-old renovation specialist, Le Bras Frères, which won the contract, the Daily Mail reports, in part because it claimed it specialized in handling “at risk” buildings. The firm’s president specifically told those awarding the contract that they would keep special watch on the 125-year-old spire, which buckled and fell during the blaze.
Le Bras Frères would not comment on any ongoing investigation, except to say that there is one.
They are, perhaps, quite lucky: many of the priceless and irreplaceable artwork contained within the cathedral appears to have survived. A “human chain” rescued some of Notre Dame’s most cherished possessions, including the Crown of Thorns, a tunic worn by St. Louis, and a number of statues and priceless furnishings, and administrators are confident that they rescued most of the artwork that was in immediate danger.
A few pieces are still missing, though, and it may be days before the French can take a full accounting of what was lost.
“The main structure has been saved but there is still a lot of instability,” French Culture Minister Franck Riester told local news. “The situation is still precarious. The two belfries and the works were saved, including the treasure, thanks to the courage of the Paris fire brigade.”
The cathedral’s famous “Rose Windows” are intact, though the largest Rose Window came inches from destruction when the roof collapsed in. The Great Organ escaped fire damage but firefighters believe it may have sustained water damage from the fire rescue efforts. Some of the large paintings, it seems, were also affected by water used to quench the fire.
Renovation work, on both the art and the cathedral could take decades, and it is not known yet exactly how much bringing Notre Dame back to life will cost. French authorities have already collected a pretty solid sum, though, towards getting construction and renovation efforts off the ground. So far, the city of Paris has offered 50 million Euro, and two competing French billionaires — one who runs the fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent, and one who runs Louis Vuitton — have together pledged 300 million Euro.