Rouen cathedral evacuated after spire blaze

Smoke billows from the spire of Rouen Cathedral in Rouen, northern France.
Smoke was seen billowing out from beneath a covering surrounding the spire [AFP]

The spire of a famous Gothic cathedral in the French city of Rouen caught fire, prompting an evacuation, local officials say.

Images posted on X by the prefecture show black smoke billowing from a canopy and scaffolding at the top of the building, which is about 150m (495ft) tall.

The blaze has now been contained, according to officials, and three workers suffered from mild smoke inhalation.

Builders renovating the cathedral spotted the flames around the spire shortly after midday, sounding the alarm, according to local authorities.

About 70 firefighters and 40 fire engines were part of the efforts to tackle the blaze at Our Lady of the Assumption cathedral, fire brigade chief Stephane Gouezec told local media.

Plastic parts of the construction site caught fire, Mr Gouezec said. The metal spire itself did not appear to be damaged.

Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said that "all public resources" had been mobilised in response.

"Fire broke out at the tip of the spire, which isn't made of wood, but rather metal," the prefecture of the Seine-Maritime department told AFP news agency.

The cathedral was evacuated and a security perimeter put in place while emergency services tackled the fire, the prefecture said.

The Archbishop of Rouen told Reuters he was relieved that four people working on the spire managed to get away from the flames, adding that one of the workers told him: "I don't think I've ever been that close to the good Lord but today, I say thank you."

A close up photo of the plastic sheeting that was damaged by the fire. Two firefighters can be seen on the ledge surrounding the spire.
The cast iron spire has been undergoing restoration work, and is shrouded in scaffolding. [Reuters]

Rouen cathedral, featured in several 19th Century artworks by impressionist artist Claude Monet, is undergoing extensive restoration.

It was constructed over several centuries, with parts of the building dating back more than 900 years to the 12th Century, according to its official website. Between 1876 and 1880, it was the tallest building in the world.

In 2019, a blaze in the wooden roof frame caused massive damage to the world-famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The landmark building in France's capital is due to reopen officially in December, after years of repairs.