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France holds tribute to Notre Dame firefighters

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    A fire fighter makes his way on a balcony of Notre Dame cathedral Wednesday, April 17, 2019 in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron ratcheted up the pressure by setting a five-year deadline to restore the 12th-century landmark. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

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    An image made available by Gigarama.ru on Wednesday April 17, 2019 shows an aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Tuesday April 16. Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after it was damaged in a massive fire on Monday. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

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    An image made available by Gigarama.ru on Wednesday April 17, 2019 shows an aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Tuesday April 16. Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after it was damaged in a massive fire on Monday. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

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    An image made available by Gigarama.ru on Wednesday April 17, 2019 shows an aerial shot of the fire damage to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris on Tuesday April 16. Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after it was damaged in a massive fire on Monday. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

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    The Notre Dame Cathedral is reflected in a wine glass as a customer eats nearby the cathedral in Paris, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Donations have poured in for the vast restoration of the fire-ravaged Notre Dame cathedral, but a pledge by French President Emmanuel Macron that it will be completed within five years is facing accusations of being wildly off track. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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    A statue is pictured just outside Notre Dame cathedral Wednesday, April 17, 2019 in Paris. Notre Dame Cathedral would have been completely burned to the ground in a "chain reaction collapse" had firefighters not moved rapidly in deploying their equipment to battle the blaze racing through the landmark monument, a Paris official said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

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    A French flag flaps in front of Notre Dame cathedral, in Paris, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Notre Dame Cathedral would have been completely burned to the ground in a "chain reaction collapse" had firefighters not moved rapidly in deploying their equipment to battle the blaze racing through the landmark monument, a Paris official said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

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    Worshippers stay in silence while bells toll during a mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. The bells of France have tolled, ringing out from the nation's cathedrals and basilicas in commemoration of the Notre Dame fire. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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    This photo dated Tuesday April 16, 2019, issued Wednesday April 17, 2019 by the Paris City Hall, shows artefacts rescued from the Notre Dame blaze in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron ratcheted up the pressure by setting a five-year deadline to restore the 12th-century landmark. Macron is holding a special Cabinet meeting Wednesday dedicated to the Notre Dame disaster, which investigators believe was an accident possibly linked to renovation work. (Henri Garat/Ville de Paris via AP)

Published April 18. 2019 08:56AM

PARIS (AP) — France is paying a daylong tribute Thursday to the Paris firefighters who saved the internationally revered Notre Dame Cathedral from collapse and rescued its treasures from encroaching flames.

French President Emmanuel Macron will host the firefighters for a special gathering to share “words of thanks,” according to his office. Top government ministers will also take part in the event at the presidential palace in Paris.

Later, Paris City Hall will hold a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

More than 400 firefighters took part in the nine-hour battle to save the 12th-century Notre Dame on Monday evening. Its spire collapsed and roof was destroyed, but its iconic towers, rose windows, famed organ and precious artworks were saved.

Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which occurred during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.

Among the firefighters being honored Thursday is Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who helped salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.

Another is Myriam Chudzinski, among the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the cathedral for just this moment.

“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”

She heard a roar, but her focus was on saving the tower. She learned later that it was the sound of the spire collapsing.

Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations to the cathedral before the fire broke out.

Some 40 people have been questioned and some are being questioned again Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Fire officials warn that the massive cathedral still remains fragile, and are removing some statues above the rose windows to keep them from falling.

The building would have burned to the ground in a “chain-reaction collapse” had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, said José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry.

An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered on the roof.

Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts have questioned whether that’s realistic, given the vast scale of the work to be done. One said the Notre Dame rebuilding project would easily take 15 years. Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.

The bells of cathedrals across France rang in a moving tribute Wednesday to Notre Dame and the firefighters.

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Read and watch all AP coverage of the Notre Dame fire at https://apnews.com/NotreDameCathedral

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