Rouen cathedral evacuated after spire catches fire

French firefighters have grappled with a blaze at Rouen cathedral after thick black plumes of smoke were seen billowing into the sky.

The spire of the cathedral in Normandy has been evacuated, according to the city’s mayor, with around 70 firefighters and 40 fire engines needed to contain the fire.

A jewel of French medieval gothic architecture, the cathedral dates back to the 12th century and was painted multiple times by impressionist artist Claude Monet in the 19th century, lifting its worldwide fame.

“A fire has started on the spire of Rouen Cathedral. Origin unknown at this stage. All public resources are mobilised,” the city’s mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said. It was later confirmed the fire was contained.

The cathedral spire was undergoing work involving large scaffolding structures in place as part of an estimated 1.33 million euros (£1.12m) project, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

Rouen cathedral in 2016 (AP)
Rouen cathedral in 2016 (AP)

“The construction site is complex because of this height with very large scaffolding structures,” Richard Duplat, chief architect from Historic Monuments told Tendance Ouest.

The local prefect – a state official – said a cordon had been set up. The prefecture administration said there were no reports of casualties and the extent of the damage was unclear for now.

The archbishop for Rouen cathedral Dominique Lebrun said the workers who raised the alarm when the fire broke out “inhaled a little smoke” but are “safe and sound”.

The prefecture said there were no reports of casualties and the extent of the damage was unclear for now (AFP/Getty)
The prefecture said there were no reports of casualties and the extent of the damage was unclear for now (AFP/Getty)

“We reached the site of the fire about half an hour ago now and we are in the process of making sure the fire is out. We will still need some time, perhaps an hour or so, to make sure there are no hot spots left in the area,” said fire brigade chief Stephane Gouezec who spoke to several TV channels.

In 1822, lightning started a fire that destroyed the wood and lead Renaissance spire of the central tower. The new iron spire was not completed for six decades. It stood at 151 metres and for a short time made the cathedral the world’s tallest building.

The cathedral was also partially destroyed by Allied bombardment during World War Two ahead of the Normandy landings. Restoration work was only completed in the 1980s.

The blaze today was reminiscent of the devastating fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019, which also started during renovation works.

In that case, a suspected electrical short-circuit caused a fire at the famous Parisian cathedral. The huge blaze destroyed much of the inside of the renowned landmark and saw renovation work take place. The cause of that fire was deemed an accident.

The fire, which occurred on April , 2019, caused the collapse of Notre Dame’s spire and part of its roof. It was a significant blow to the cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site and a symbol of Christianity that welcomed 12 million visitors each year.

Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen in December after an unprecedented reconstruction effort.