Small fire in towering spire of medieval cathedral in French city of Rouen is under control


PARIS (AP) — A small fire broke out Thursday in the spire of the medieval cathedral in Rouen, a major monument in northern France that was undergoing renovation, but authorities said the blaze was quickly brought under control.

Witnesses told French television that they saw smoke coming from the spire just after noon and remembered a devastating fire in 2019 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, causing the spire to topple and the roof to collapse.

Considered a Gothic masterpiece, Rouen Cathedral, built in the 12th century, is widely beloved, not least for a series of paintings by Impressionist Claude Monet that capture its asymmetrical western façade. It is also the tallest church in France and one of the tallest cathedrals in the world. It is known for its three towers, each built in a different style.

Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol was the first to post on the social media platform X around noon that “a fire” was going on “on the spire of Rouen Cathedral.”

Less than 90 minutes later, Stephane Gouezec of the Seine-Maritime fire department said the source of the fire had been found — about 120 meters (about 400 feet) high — and that the blaze was under control. Crews were working to ensure there were no more “hot spots,” he added.

He told reporters the risk of the flames spreading was low because the fire was in an area where there was mostly metal.

According to Gouezec, it was the construction workers who were the first to notice the fire and alert the authorities.

The cathedral was evacuated and a security perimeter was set up, regional officials said. Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told French media the building was expected to reopen on Friday.

Witnesses in Rouen were nervous as the memory of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris remains etched in the national consciousness. The fire broke out five years ago, also during renovations, and is expected to reopen in December after an unprecedented reconstruction effort. The cause of that fire was ruled an accident.

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