Fire-ravaged Notre Dame has been stabilized

PARIS (AP) — Architects and construction workers have now stabilized the damaged structure of Notre Dame cathedral, four days after a fast-spreading fire ravaged the iconic Paris building, and firefighters were leaving the site Friday night, a fire brigade spokesman said.

"There is no more risk the edifice's walls could fall down," Lt. Col. Gabriel Plus told The Associated Press, adding that firefighters have been able to cool down the walls and debris from the roof inside the cathedral.

"It's a miracle that the cathedral is still standing, and that all the relics were saved," he said.

Earlier, the cathedral's rector said a "computer glitch" may have been behind the rapidly spreading blaze that devastated the 850-year-old architectural masterpiece.

Rector Patrick Chauvet did not elaborate on the exact nature of the glitch. "We may find out what happened in two or three months," he told a meeting of local business leaders.

The fire burned through the network of enormous centuries-old oak beams supporting the monument's vaulted stone ceiling, dangerously weakening the building. The surrounding neighborhood was blocked off as stones continued to tumble off the sides of the cathedral after Monday evening's devastating blaze.

On Thursday, Paris police investigators said they believe an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire.

The Parisien newspaper has reported that a computer glitch might have misdirected firefighters responding to the initial fire alarm. The unsourced report said investigators are also looking into whether the fire was linked to temporary elevators being used in a renovation that was underway at the time the cathedral caught fire. Chauvet said there were fire alarms throughout the building, which he described as "well protected."

Charlotte Hubert, president of a group of French architects who specialize in historic monuments, told BFM television that experts plan to spread a custom-made peaked tarpaulin across the cathedral's roof, with enough space to also shield workers rebuilding the frame.

As Catholic worshippers carried out the Way of the Cross ritual near the cathedral to mark Good Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron met with officials from the United Nations' cultural agency, UNESCO. UNESCO representatives have offered their technical expertise to help with the reconstruction.

Macron is moving quickly on the fire-ravaged monument's reconstruction, which is being viewed both as a push to make it part of his legacy and a way to move past the divisive yellow vest protests over social inequality in France.

Notre Dame's reconstruction is prompting widespread debate across France, with differing views over whether it should involve new technologies and designs. Macron's office has, for example, said the president wants a "contemporary architectural gesture to be considered" for the collapsed 19th-century spire, which wasn't part of the original cathedral.

Macron hasn't offered any specifics on his vision for the roof or whether the frame should be wood, metal or concrete, according to his cultural heritage envoy, Stephane Bern. He has named a general, Jean-Louis Georgelin, former chief of staff of the armed forces, to lead the reconstruction effort.

Over $1 billion has already poured in from people from all walks of life around the world to restore Notre Dame.

Judith Kagan, a conservation official at France's Culture Ministry, said the artworks inside Notre Dame had suffered no major damage from the fire and the pieces were being removed from the building for their protection.

The Notre Dame fire delayed Macron's long-awaited plans to quell anti-government protests that have marred his presidency. The French leader abandoned a planned TV address to the nation on the evening of the fire, heading to the scene instead and declaring: "We will rebuild Notre Dame."

According to an opinion poll by BVA institute published Friday — the first carried out since the fire — Macron has gained three points in popularity in the past month with an approval rating of 32 percent. That puts him back at the support level of September, before the yellow vest crisis, BVA said.

Although all French polls show that Macron's popularity has remain low since a tax increase on retirees last year, they suggest his party may be ahead in France's May 26 European Parliament election, with Marine Le Pen's far-right party, the National Rally, close behind.

Macron is expected to detail his new economic measures next week. Earlier, Macron had planned to introduce tax cuts for lower-income households and measures to boost pensions and help single parents.

Despite the destruction of Notre Dame dominating the news in France, a new round of nationwide yellow vest protests was planned for Saturday. Interior minister Christophe Castaner said 60,000 police officers were being mobilized and demonstrations near Notre Dame would be be banned as he expects some protests to turn violent.

In a hopeful development Friday, 180,000 bees being kept in in hives on Notre Dame's lead roof were discovered alive.

"I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn't burn. I thought they had gone with the cathedral," Nicolas Geant, the monument's beekeeper, told the AP.

Geant has looked after the bees since 2013, when they were installed as part of a city-wide initiative to boost declining bee numbers.

Geant said the carbon dioxide in the fire's heavy smoke put the bees into a sedated state instead of killing them, adding that when bees sense fire they "gorge themselves on honey" and protect their queen. European bees never abandon their hives, he said.

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Associated Press writers Thomas Adamson and Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.

 

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