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Investigation into Notre Dame fire accelerates as France plans to rebuild

French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral within five years, in time for Paris to host the 2024 Olympics. To meet the ambitious schedule, Macron said architects from around the world would be invited to submit designs for the famous spire that fell in Monday’s fire. Meanwhile, the investigation continues into what started the blaze. ITN’s Paraic O’Brien reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Investigators in France are pushing for answers tonight in the fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral.

    Meanwhile, the push to rebuild has already raised nearly $1 billion, but there are questions about just how fast is feasible.

    Paraic O'Brien of Independent Television News has the latest from Paris.

  • Paraic O’Brien:

    President Macron has come close to staking his presidency on the renovation of Notre Dame being complete in five years to coincide with the Olympics in Paris in 2024.

    After a Cabinet meeting today, the prime minister acknowledged the challenges of a five-year time scale.

  • Edouard Philippe (through translator):

    This is obviously a huge challenge, a historic responsibility, the building endeavor of this generation and for the generations that will follow. France is up to the challenge.

    The state will be up to the challenge. The mobilization has already started, and this was the focus of today's council of ministers.

  • Paraic O’Brien:

    He went on to say that France would invite architects from around the world to submit designs for a new spire to replace the one that fell in Tuesday's fire.

    The focus of the investigation now moves to here, the headquarters of the Parisian judicial police. There are 50 investigators inside this building all asking the question, why did the fire start? As part of that, they're interviewing contractors who were working on the renovation at the cathedral. And of particular interest will be the company walking at the base of the famous spire, where the fire was most intense.

    The company is run by Julien Le Bras. His company won the $5 million contract to repair the spire. The company's corporate video shows him talking to his staff about the project at the time.

    Yesterday, outside the cathedral, he said he was cooperating with investigators and that none of his employees were on site when the fire started.

  • Julien Le Bras (through translator):

    We want more than anyone else to shed light on the origin of this tragedy.

  • Paraic O’Brien:

    More details are also emerging about what happened immediately before the fire took hold. At 6:20 Tuesday evening, the first fire alarm went off, but flames couldn't be located at the time. Then, 20 minutes later, a second fire alarm was sounded at about a quarter to 7:00. Soon after that, the flames were completely out of control.

    Today, firefighters confirmed that they were on the scene in less than 10 minutes and explained how close it had come to the entire structure collapsing.

  • Lt. Col. Jose Vaz De Matos (through translator):

    The fire was spreading by the northern tower, near the bells, and all their supporting beams are wooden. If the fire reached this wooden structure, the tower would have been lost.

    And the moment we'd lost the war for the towers, we would lose the cathedral.

  • Paraic O’Brien:

    In the company of heroes, one stood out, the firefighters' chaplain, who knows all about storming the gates of hell. During the Bataclan terrorist attacks, he also ran in to minister to those dying.

    On Tuesday night, rushed into the cathedral to rescue the sacraments.

  • Jean-Marc Fournier (through translator):

    We had a vision of what hell would look like with cascades of fire. So, I'm alone in the cathedral in this atmosphere of fire and flames, burning things falling from the roof. I performed a blessing and asked Jesus to save his house.

  • Paraic O’Brien:

    This evening, at the same time as the fire took hold on Tuesday, cathedral bells ran out across Europe to remember the 2019 fire of Notre Dame.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That report from Paraic O'Brien of Independent Television News.

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