The structure of Notre Dame has been saved after a huge fire destroyed parts of the famous cathedral, according to a fire chief in Paris.

The update came after officials earlier warned that firefighters may not be able to stop the huge blaze which tore through the cathedral.

Speaking outside the cathedral, fire chief Jean-Claude Gallet had told reporters he was “not sure we are capable of stopping the spreading” to Notre Dame’s second tower and belfry, but he later said they had been successful in stopping it spreading to the northern belfry of the 850-year-old Gothic building.

President Emmanuel Macron addressed crowds outside Notre Dame and pledged to rebuild the cathedral.

He announced that the French government would set up a public fund to collect donations for the building works.

“The fire will go on for several days. I would like to thank the firefighters on behalf of the nation,” he said.

“At this time, the worst has been avoided. Even if the building hasn’t been completely destroyed, the next few hours will be difficult, but thanks to the efforts of so many, the facade has been saved.

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Firefighters try to stop the blaze from damaging Notre Dame’s facade (Thibault Camus/AP)

“Notre Dame is our history, our imagination, where we’ve lived all our great moments, and is the epicentre of our lives.

“It’s the story of our books, our paintings. It’s the cathedral for all French people, even if they have never been. But it is burning and I know this sadness will be felt by all of our citizens.

“Tomorrow a national subscription will be launched for people around the country to help rebuild this great Notre Dame,” he said.

“Because that’s what the French people want. That is what their history requires. Because that is our destiny.”

Concerns over the scale of the damage to Notre Dame came as expressions of grief were sent to Paris from around the world.

Notre Dame graphic
(PA Graphics)

Mr Macron earlier sent out his thoughts for “all Catholics and to the French people”.

“Notre Dame is aflame,” he said.

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A firefighter tackles the blaze (Francois Mori/AP)

“Great emotion for the whole nation. Our thoughts go out to all Catholics and for to the French people. Like all of my fellow citizens, I am sad to see this part of us burn tonight.”

Prime Minister Theresa May sent her wishes to the French capital from her walking holiday with her husband in Wales, where she is spending the beginning of parliamentary recess.

“My thoughts are with the people of France tonight and with the emergency services who are fighting the terrible blaze at Notre Dame cathedral,” she said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted some advice for the Paris Fire Brigade, suggesting “flying water tankers” to put out the flames.

The fire began on Monday evening, with first reports emerging of smoke in the cathedral shortly before 6pm.

The last visitors of the day were evacuated and the Paris Fire Brigade began to fight flames which had emerged from the cathedral’s roof.

A French official said that while the source of the fire was unknown, it could be linked to renovation works to fix Notre Dame’s historic stone walls and buttresses.

The fire first brought down the cathedral’s 315ft (96m) spire, and has spread to one of its two towers, which form its famed frontage.

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The spire of Notre Dame burned before falling completely (Thibault Camus/AP)

Notre Dame is one of the city’s oldest and most recognisable buildings, and work began on it in 1163.

The original structure was completed nearly 200 years later, in 1345, and its name literally translates to “Our Lady of Paris”.

Some 13 million people now visit the Catholic landmark every year – more than 30,000 every day on average – according to its official website, and it is believed to be the most visited structure in the French capital.

Its renovation works were estimated to cost around 150 million euro (£130 million).