IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Arson suspected as fire ravages medieval cathedral in French city of Nantes

The blaze comes just over a year after a massive fire at the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Fire fighters work to extinguish the blaze at the Gothic St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, in Nantes, western France on Saturday.Laetitia Notarianni / AP

PARIS — A fire ravaged a 15th-century cathedral in the western French city of Nantes on Saturday, blowing out stained-glass windows and destroying a grand organ.

French officials said they suspected arson was behind the blaze at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes or Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes.

Prosecutor Pierre Sennes told reporters three fires had been started at the ancient site and authorities were treating the incident as a criminal act. He gave no further details.

The blaze began early Saturday morning around 7.45 a.m. local time (2:45 a.m. ET), engulfing the inside of the church with massive flames.

More than 100 firefighters battled for several hours to bring it under control and smoke was still coming out of the Gothic structure on Saturday afternoon, local time.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is set to visit the scene along with France's culture and interior ministers.

"I want to know what happened even if it's very early," Castex told reporters.

The fire comes just over a year after a massive fire at the historic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, which destroyed its roof and main spire.

"After Notre-Dame, the St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral is in flames," President Emmanuel Macron tweeted from Brussels, where he was attending a European Union summit. "Support to the firemen who are taking all the risks to save the Gothic jewel."

The fire broke out behind the grand organ, which was completely destroyed, local fire chief Laurent Ferlay told reporters in front of the cathedral. However, the damage was not as bad as initially feared.

"We are not in a Notre-Dame de Paris scenario. The roof has not been touched," Ferlay said.

The fire was not the first at the cathedral in Nantes, which is about 340 km (210 miles) southwest of Paris.

The church was partly destroyed during World War Two in 1944 after Allied bombings. In 1972 a blaze completely ravaged its roof and it was finally rebuilt 13 years later with a concrete structure replacing the ancient wooden roof.

Officials said an investigation into the blaze had been opened.

Nancy Ing reported from Paris and Adela Suliman from London.

Reuters contributed to this report.