Criminal motive under probe for fire at cathedral in France’s Nantes

The fire that broke out on Saturday morning at the cathedral of Nantes in western France has been contained and an investigation into the fire has been launched, local media reported.

The fire broke out at 07:45 local time (0545 GMT) inside the Gothic building of the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, behind the grand organ, which was completely damaged. Stained glass windows at the front of the cathedral were blown out. Several hours later, 104 firefighters brought the blaze under control.

“We are not in a Notre Dame de Paris scenario…The roof has not been touched,” regional fire chief General Laurent Ferlay told local media, referring to the catastrophic fire that ravaged the spire of Notre Dame cathedral in the capital in April 2019.

Rescue operations are still underway and will last “at least the whole day” to ensure “that there is no other fire start and there is no propagation of hot gas in the upper parts of the cathedral,” Ferlay said.

“We have undertaken operations to make reconnaissance of the entire building and for the protection of works of art, in collaboration with the cathedral authorities,” he added.

Prosecutor Pierre Sennes told reporters three fires had been started at the site and authorities were treating the incident as a criminal act.

“Three starts of fire. That brings us to favor the criminal hypothesis. It is not the result of chance,” he said.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, with ministers of interior and culture, will visit the site later in the day to “know what happened.”

“My thought with our firefighters courageously mobilized to contain the fire at Nantes cathedral. I express to them my support and deep gratitude,” he tweeted.

Built between 15th and 19th centuries, the Gothic cathedral was damaged in 1972 by a major fire, which engulfed its roof. It was reopened to worship 13 years later.