Investigators probe Notre-Dame inferno as donations pour in
PARIS (AFP) — Pledges to donate millions of euros in cash and materials poured in today in the aftermath of a massive fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which firefighters were still fighting to extinguish more than 12 hours after it started.
French investigators, meanwhile, started interviewing construction workers involved in renovation work at the cathedral as they sought to identify the source of the devastating blaze that has sent shockwaves through France and the world.
President Emmanuel Macron has vowed the emblematic church will be rebuilt after its spire and roof collapsed Monday night in a blaze thought to be linked to extensive renovation work.
French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced Tuesday that he and the LVMH luxury conglomerate he controls would give 200 million euros ($226 million) for the reconstruction efforts.
The pledge came after Arnault’s crosstown rival Kering, the fashion group founded by fellow billionaire Francois Pinault, offered 100 million euros to help “completely rebuild Notre-Dame”.
The privately run French Heritage Foundation has already launched a call for donations to help restore a “symbol of French history and culture.”
Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region comprising the greater Paris region, said it would provide 10 million euros.
And the head of a French lumber company told FranceInfo radio that it was ready to offer the best oak beams available to rebuild the intricate lattice that supported the now-destroyed roof, known as the “Forest”.
“The work will surely take years, decades even, but it will require thousands of cubic metres of wood. We’ll have to find the best specimens, with large diameters,” Sylvain Charlois of the Charlois group in Murlin, central France, told the radio.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Tuesday proposed organising an international donor conference to coordinate the pledges to restore the gothic architectural masterpiece.
The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO has also promised to stand “at France’s side” to restore the site, which it declared a world heritage site in 1991.
Around 400 firefighters battled through the night to control the flames and the last remnants of the inferno were extinguished at around 10 am on Tuesday, 15 hours after it broke out.
Ongoing renovation work is widely suspected to have caused the fire after the blaze broke out in an area below scaffolding.
Investigators interviewed witnesses overnight and began speaking to the employees of five different construction companies which were working on the monument, said public prosecutor Remy Heitz.
“Nothing indicates this was a voluntary act,” Heitz told reporters, adding that 50 investigators had been assigned to the case.