Smoke is no longer rising from the spire of the 12th century cathedral where the blaze first broke out, footage shows.

Smoke billows from the spire of Rouen Cathedral in Rouen, northern France on July 11, 2024. - Mayor of Rouen Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol said midday on X, that a fire was in progress on the cathedral showing a photograph of a plume of smoke escaping from scaffolding surrounding the spire. (Photo by Patrick STREIFF / AFP)
Smoke billows from the spire of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Rouen in northern France on July 11, 2024 [Patrick Streiff/AFP]

The spire of a medieval cathedral in the city of Rouen in northern France is mostly clear of smoke after catching ablaze and firefighters rushed in to contain it.

The fire broke out about midday on Thursday in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, which was undergoing renovation, the local prefecture and emergency fire service said.

The Gothic cathedral, one of France’s finest, dates back to the 12th century and was repeatedly painted by Impressionist artist Claude Monet in the 19th century, generating worldwide fame.

Images from France’s BFM television channel released shortly after the fire erupted showed a thick plume of smoke rising from the cathedral’s central spire and people in the streets looking up in horror.

In later footage broadcast by the channel, smoke could still be seen through a gap in the white cover encircling the scaffolding around the spire but was no longer rising in a dark column.

Rouen Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, writing on X, said all public resource had been mobilized to quell the blaze, whose origin remains unknown.

The local prefecture, which exercises state authority in the region, said the cathedral had been evacuated. A security cordon was in place around the building.

It advised people to “stay away to give space for emergency responders to work”.

So far, there are no reports of casualties, and the extent of the damage is unclear, according to the prefecture. Workers who were on site carrying on the renovation are safe, the cathedral’s archbishop said.

The cathedral was built and rebuilt over a period of more than 800 years and has features from early Gothic to late Flamboyant and Renaissance architecture. It is famous for its three towers, each of which are built in a different style.

In 1822, lightning started a fire that destroyed the wood and lead Renaissance spire of the central tower. The new iron spire was not completed for six decades. It stood at 151 metres (500ft) and for a short time made the cathedral the world’s tallest building.

Its 12th century Tower Saint-Roman houses its bourdon, or largest bell, named Joan of Arc as well as the 64-bell carillon. The cathedral’s bells can be heard from 5km (3 miles) away.

The Rouen blaze is reminiscent of a devastating 2019 fire at Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, which also started during renovation works.

A fire in the wooden frame of that cathedral’s roof was behind the disaster.