PARIS — The Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the most iconic landmarks in the French capital, was engulfed in flames Monday evening as a catastrophic fire tore through the historic structure, collapsing its spire as fire officials raced to save the monument from total destruction.
"A group of experts are analysing all of the structures to establish the next stages," spokesperson Gabriel Plus told reporters.
Two police officers and a firefighter suffered light injuries tackling the fire, the fire department tweeted, along with pictures of the operation.
"The structure of the cathedral is saved and the main artworks have been safeguarded, thanks to the combined actions of different state services," it said.
Images from the scene on Monday showed flames engulfing the cathedral, before both the ceiling and the 90-meter (295-foot) spire came crashing down, drawing gasps and groans of disbelief from witnesses.
The fire spread to one of the cathedral's iconic towers, but French officials said late Monday that firefighters were optimistic they could save both towers.
"The fire has lessened in intensity: the firefighters of Paris told me they are very hopeful about saving the northern tower," French Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said on Twitter late Monday, adding that the firefighting efforts would continue for hours.
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the cathedral, and said he will seek international help to do so.
He said a national fundraising campaign would be launched on Tuesday and called on the world's "greatest talents" to assist in the effort.
"We will rebuild," Macron told reporters. "We will rebuild Notre Dame because this is what the French expect, because this is what our history deserves, because it is our destiny."
Officials said there were no deaths in the fire. Jean-Claude Gallet, chief of the Parisian fire brigade, said one firefighter was injured while responding to the blaze, the Associated Press reported.
Two-thirds of the cathedral's roofing was destroyed, Gallet said.
"It looks like the Olympic torch from the back with flames coming through the roof,” France 24 journalist Charli James reported during a live broadcast.
The fire broke out just before 7 p.m., minutes after the cathedral, which has been undergoing extensive renovation work, closed to the public. Around 30,000 people visit the church daily.
Church spokesperson André Finot told French media that the entire wooden interior, which dates from the 13th century, had burned and likely to be destroyed.
"Everything is burning; nothing will remain from the frame," Finot said.
Emergency services said they were trying to salvage as much artwork as possible, with France 24 reporting that nearly all of it was able to be removed and saved. The Crown of Thorns, said to have been worn by Jesus Christ before the crucifixion, and the tunic of St. Louis were both saved, according to the cathedral's rector.
The Interior Ministry said that 400 firefighters were on the ground fighting the blaze.
France 24 reported that the Paris prosecutor has begun an investigation into how the fire started. The cause has not been determined, but the prosecutor's office said it believes the fire was started accidentally.
The cathedral sits on Île de la Cité, a small island in the Seine in the center of Paris. It is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture with its hallmark flying buttresses, rose windows, and rib vault structure.
"Thinking of all the Catholics and all the French people. Like all our citizens, I am sad to see this part of ourself burn tonight," tweeted Macron, who canceled a planned speech after news of the fire.
This week is Easter Holy Week, and the cathedral is the most important Catholic location in France.
"A terrible fire is happening right now at the Notre Dame Cathedral," Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, tweeted.
"The firefighters of Paris are trying to control the flames. We are mobilized on the ground, in close collaboration with the Paris diocese. I urge everyone to respect the security perimeter," the mayor added, along with photos of the cathedral covered in smoke.
Around 8:30 p.m. local time, around an hour and a half after the fire began, video footage no longer showed huge flames as firefighters began to get the fire under control.
Paris police asked people to avoid the area and allow emergency vehicles clear access.
Twelve million people visited the cathedral in 2017, making it the most popular tourist attraction in all of Paris, according to the city's tourist office.
Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre-Dame helped cement the cathedral in popular culture, along with the Disney version of Quasimodo living in the gargoyle-filled tower.
Thousands of Parisians turned out in the streets to watch the disaster unfold.
"It's an emotional scene — people stopped and watching this monument which will most likely never be the same burns right in front of our eyes," said James on France 24.
"People watch the cathedral burn, in silence," tweeted Libération journalist Quentin Girard.
A man named Jean-Luc told BuzzFeed News for him Notre Dame is the primary symbol of France.
"This is a whole part of my life that’s crumbling," Jean-Luc said, as he watched the centuries-old cathedral burn across the Seine. "For me, Notre Dame is France. A lot more than the Eiffel Tower. Or the Élysée [the president's residence], either."
Another man named Henri referred to the cathedral as "the historical heart of the faith in France."
"This is only a monument. But it any case, it touches us deeply; it’s a place where so many have gathered. It’s historical," Henri told BuzzFeed News. "It’s like the death of a loved one: It’s sad and it’s a shame and it’s magnificent, and in the end it’s a loss."
Hundreds of people gathered in the streets Monday night to sing "Ave Maria."
Churches across the city rang their bells in unison in support of Notre Dame late Monday night as the fire continued to burn.
An elderly woman named Astrid said she had just returned to Paris and was planning to go to Easter mass at the cathedral.
"It’s such a shame," she told BuzzFeed News. "I’d just come back to Paris."
She recalled seeing the new bells installed, saying, "We're going to lose all that, all those works that belong to the heritage of the world."