Construction workers have admitted to smoking cigarettes on the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral before the centuries-old structure caught fire last week, as French investigators start to probe possible causes of the blaze.
The workers had been installing scaffolding on the building as part of extensive renovations.
Investigators are examining two main theories as to what caused the fire: a short-circuit near the cathedral’s spire possibly caused by electrified bells, or careless behaviour by construction workers carrying out renovations on site.
Spokesman for Le Bras Freres construction company Marc Eskenazi told Reuters that some workers of its Europe Echafaudage scaffolding unit had told police that they “sometimes” smoked on the scaffolding despite a smoking ban on site.
However, he shut down any suggestions that a cigarette butt caused the fire that destroyed the cathedral’s oak-framed roof.
“If cigarette butts have survived the inferno, I do not know what material they were made of,” Mr Eskenazi told Reuters.
“We condemn it, but the fire started inside the building … so for company Le Bras this is not a hypothesis.
“It was not a cigarette butt that set Notre-Dame de Paris on fire.”
Mr Eskenazi also said he did not believe the fire was started by an electrical fault at one of the two lifts on the site.
“The lifts’ electricity was perfectly within specifications and well maintained,” Mr Eskenazi said.
A police official said teams from three different police agencies were entering the monument to take samples and search for clues as to what caused the fire.
Police made a preliminary visit last week but were unable to conduct a thorough examination until the cathedral’s structure was secured.
Early investigations have prompted suggestions that the fire was possibly caused by a short circuit linked to renovation work.
The Paris prosecutor’s office says all potential leads are being pursued.
Thanks to the quick thinking of a Paris fire brigade chaplain, firefighters and police officers, many of the priceless artefacts stored inside the building were rescued from the flames.
One such relic included the Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus Christ in the moments before he was crucified.
The cathedral will remain closed to the public for years after the fire destroyed its roof and knocked over its spire.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been pledged from around the world to help with rebuilding the 856-year-old national landmark.
French President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious goal of reopening the cathedral within five years – in time for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.