The firefighters who saved the historic Notre Dame cathedral from collapse as it burst into flames will be honored Thursday during a day-long tribute across France.
French President Emmanuel Macron will host the first responders for a special gathering at the presidential palace to thank each of them, his office said. Top government ministers will also be present.
Then, Paris City Hall will hold a ceremony in honor of the smoke eaters, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the massive building and readings from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.
The firefighters — more than 400 in number — toiled for about nine hours Monday night to save the world-renowned house of worship. While the spire collapsed and the roof, for the most part, was decimated — many other priceless features, including the towers, rose windows, organ and pieces of art were saved.
One of Thursday’s honorees is Jean Marc-Fournier, a priest who serves as the chaplain for the Paris Fire Brigade. He’s credited with dashing into the burning cathedral to save its most sacred relic: the crown of thorns that Jesus is believed to have worn.
Myriam Chudzinski, who was one of the first firefighters to climb hundreds of steps and reach the flaming roof, is also among those being honored. She told reporters that her training at the cathedral had prepared for just that.
“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” Chudzinski said. “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.”
At one moment, she heard a roar that turned out to be the sound of the spire crashing down.
Two-thirds of the famed cathedral’s roof was destroyed by the flames.
Macron has said he hopes Notre Dame will be rebuilt “even more beautifully” in five years’ time.
Authorities were probing whether the fire was sparked by a short circuit, as the Gothic cathedral’s spire underwent a $12 million restoration project.
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