Notre Dame marks anniversary of cathedral fire

A year later, investigations and restoration efforts have made little progress.

Paris -- On April 15 last year, a fire destroyed the 800-year-old wooden roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, causing irreparable damage to the inside of the landmark. The fire, which burned for 15 hours, melted 300 tons of lead in the scaffolding above the roof, causing its famous spire to collapse.

Cleaning and restoration efforts have been at a standstill since March 16

"General Georgelin made the decision to 'put the site to sleep,' in particular, because the current decontamination facilities do not allow implementing, for the benefit of those involved, the rules of security relating to coronavirus," including social distancing, the spokesperson of the public establishment responsible for the conservation and restoration of Notre Dame, Jérémie Patrier-Leitus, told ABC News.

Despite doubts from architects, President Emmanuel Macron has pushed to complete restoration in five years, a goal which General Georgelin has so far defended but is now threatened by measures to stem COVID-19.

Where is the investigation at?

The cause of the fire has been subject to conspiracy theories blaming terrorism, which officials ruled out in an investigation. Others attributed the cause to a malfunctioning electrical system, or a poorly extinguished cigarette. Yet, the precise cause of the fire remains unknown.

"It is an investigation which lasts, which is complex, which is colossal," said Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz on national radio Europe 1.

Donations and pledges to restore the cathedral total €902 million -- from individuals contributing a few dollars to huge gifts from patrons including Bernard Arnault, the chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton, and billionaire François Pinault.

And donations came from all over. North Americans accounted for 1.2 million euros while 48.1 million came from French donors and 2.9 million from the rest of the world.

A group of friends from Texas were on a tourist trip to Paris at the time of the fire. "When they came back from their amazement, they spontaneously introduced themselves later in the offices of the Notre Dame Foundation in order to issue a participation check," said Rousselot.

Meanwhile, there's been no decision made on Notre Dame's final design -- with some calling for reconstructing the spire of Viollet-Le-Duc identical to how it was, or designing a "contemporary architectural gesture" as President Macron suggested.

On Wednesday, President Macron released a video on Twitter thanking the firefighters who saved Notre Dame last year and the restoration workers.

"Our days, our thoughts, our lives today are monopolized by the terrible crisis we are going through. However, just one year after the dramatic fire which ravaged part of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, I wanted to thank again all those who saved it yesterday and all those who are rebuilding it today," he said in the video.

"We will rebuild Notre Dame in five years, I promised. We will do everything to meet this deadline. Of course, the work is on hold at the moment due to the health crisis, but it will restart as soon as possible. Notre Dame is a symbol of the resilience of our people, of their ability to overcome hardships and to recover."

The spokesperson of the public establishment responsible for the conservation and restoration of Notre Dame, Jérémie Patrier-Leitus, confirmed that the bell "Emmanuel", built in 1686 and situated at the South Tower of Notre-Dame de Paris, will ring at 8pm local (2pm EST), both to commemorate the fire and to be in unison with the French who applaud their care workers at 8pm everyday. It's the second biggest bell in France after the one in the Sacré-Coeur.

SAVING NOTRE DAME, premiering on April 16 at 7/6c on the National Geographic Channel, recounts the aftermath of the devastating fire and unprecedented one-year rescue mission to prevent the unstable cathedral from collapsing.

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