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850 years of history in ruins

Renovations: Building work may
have caused the fire

A HUGE smoke cloud rises as one of the world’s most famous landmarks, Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, is devastated by fire.

Crowds of Parisians watching from across the River Seine saw much of the medieval masterpiece consumed by flames last night.

High drama: Tip of spire crashes down as the ancient edifice burns like a bonfire

The spire of the 12th century church collapsed — with the tip tumbling dramatically to earth — before the blaze spread throughout.

One witness told Sky News onlookers had been ‘howling and gasping’ in horror.

Disaster: The damage was ‘colossal’, Paris’s deputy mayor said

Messages of support poured in from around the world as Emmanuel Macron rushed to the scene. The French president wrote on social media: ‘Our lady of Paris in flames. Emotion of a whole nation. Thoughts for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.’

The president (below) cancelled a TV speech to the nation on his response to the yellow vest protests after flames began shooting from the 850-year-old cathedral’s tower shortly after 6pm.

Belching smoke: The devastating blaze takes hold last night

No one is believed to have been hurt but deputy Paris mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said there had been ‘colossal’ damage.

He said firefighters were battling to save what they could of treasures and artworks dating back centuries. Officials suggested the blaze could be related to an ongoing £7million renovation at the cathedral — which attracts 12million visitors a year — rather than arson or terrorism.

Front-row seats for tragedy: Onlookers watch in horror from across the Seine as the inferno lights up the sky

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: ‘Heartbreaking scenes of Notre Dame cathedral in flames. London stands in sorrow with Paris today, and in friendship always.’

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who saw the fire during a visit to Paris, said: ‘Have just come away from the bank of the Seine after the spire fell as I can’t bear to watch any more. Fearful for anyone close to the flames, and aghast that centuries of history & beauty could disappear into smoke so fast.’

Huge task: Fire crews battle to save landmark from destruction

US president Donald Trump suggested sending ‘flying water tankers’ to put out the fire. His vice-president Mike Pence said: ‘It is heartbreaking to see a house of God in flames. Our thoughts and prayers are with the firefighters on the scene and all the people of Paris.’

Pope Alexander III laid the cathedral’s cornerstone in 1163 and it was largely completed by 1345.

It inspired Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, about the doomed love of bell-ringer Quasimodo for gypsy girl Esmerelda.