Notre Dame fire was likely accident, not arson — prosecutor

The Paris prosecutor has said there's no evidence to suggest arson was behind the blaze at Notre Dame. Authorities have assembled a team to probe the cause and interview workers involved in the site's renovations.

The cause of the massive fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral was probably accidental, Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz said Tuesday.

The blaze burned through the night and caused extensive damage to the 8-century-old Gothic structure, prompting its spire to collapse.

"Nothing suggests that it was a voluntary act ... We are favoring the theory of an accident," Heitz told reporters, adding that a team of 50 people were working on a probe into how the fire started. 

He said the investigation would likely be "long and complex."  

Read more: Notre Dame Cathedral: A symbol of France

The prosecutor's office said police had started questioning construction workers who had been carrying out extensive renovations to balustrades and crumbling gargoyles at the site.

Hundreds of firefighters worked through the night to bring the fire under control. It was extinguished on Tuesday morning, some 15 hours after it broke out.

Read moreWorld reacts with shock to Notre Dame fire

Officials who entered the charred edifice reported that despite significant damage and some weaknesses, the building's main structure had been saved. Staff from the fire department also managed to evacuate some of the artworks from inside the cathedral, the Culture Ministry said. 

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Landmark throughout the ages

A photo from 1880 shows Notre Dame towering over central Paris. Until the Eiffel Tower was unveiled for the 1889 World's Fair, Notre Dame was the tallest structure in the French capital.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

From on high

Statues overlooking the cathedral's roof, which was almost entirely destroyed in the blaze.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame

Quasimodo, the fictional character and main protagonist in Victor Hugo's 1831 novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," made the world-renowned cathedral even more famous. The book was made into numerous films. Here, Quasimodo is seen ringing the church bells in the 1956 French-Italian version directed by Jean Delannoy.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Fire services rush to scene

Security forces sealed off the area around the cathedral as some 400 firefighters used powerful hoses in an effort to bring the flames under control. The cathedral was undergoing restoration works when the fire started. Investigators are treating the cause of the fire as an accident, ruling out arson or terrorism.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Spire's dramatic collapse

The fire caused the spire to come crashing down and the wooden roof support structures to go up in flames. The cathedral building had fallen into ruin after years of neglect following the French Revolution, but was saved thanks to a vast restoration campaign that began in the 19th century.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Engulfed in flames

The blaze burned for nearly eight hours before it was contained.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Second tower and belfry at risk

Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to Notre Dame's two towers and belfry. Officials said after several hours of intense operations that the basic structure had been "saved and preserved."

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Parisians shocked

People in Paris looked on in horror, prayed and sung hymns as fire took hold of more and more of the cathedral. "Paris is disfigured, the city will never be like it was before," one man (not pictured) told French news agency AFP. "It's a tragedy," he added. "If you pray, now is the time to pray."

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Racing to save priceless art and artifacts

The responders fought to save the artwork at the back of the famous cathedral. Many priceless artworks and cultural relics were taken out before being burned. Last week, by chance, workers had removed 16 copper statues for cleaning for the first time in over a century.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Gutted interior

An aerial view shows firefighters battling the raging fire. A part of the vault collapsed and only a part of the interior was destroyed.

Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral up in flames

Altar intact

In the early morning hours, the first images of the interior emerged. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and French President Emmanuel Macron entered the building. Hidalgo said "there is no roof anymore, there's none of that left" — but that the interior was in much better condition than she and others had expected.

nm/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP)