A MASSIVE fire has broken out at the historic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris - in scenes reminiscent of the York Minster fire of 1984.

Hundreds of people on bridges around the cathedral have been watching in shock as fire engulfed it, causing the spire to collapse, although officials said tonight they hoped the main stone structure could be saved from collapse.

The Dean of York, the Rt Rev Jonathan Frost‏, has tonight tweeted: "Devastating scenes from Paris. Our friends in Paris and at Notre-Dame Cathedral are in our prayers and thoughts tonight. #NotreDame."

The Lord Mayor of York, Cllr Keith Orrell, said he would be writing to the French Ambassador and the Mayor of Paris on behalf of the city of York, expressing his shock and sympathy at the damage the fire had caused.

“Watching the coverage from Paris of the fire at Notre Dame must remind everyone in York of the Minster fire 35 years ago," he said.

“I’m sure we all have great sympathy for the people of Paris and France. We welcomed the French Ambassador to the Mansion House a few weeks ago and enjoyed his company tremendously."

The fire at the Minster in July 1984 caused severe damage to the South Transept - with the cost of repairs later estimated at £1 million – but the cathedral was saved.

TV presenter and historian Dan Snow‏ tweeted tonight: "It's overwhelming but remember that York Minster and Hampton Court burned in the 80s, Windsor Castle in the 90s and Cutty Sark in the 00s. Dresden's Frauenkirche, the Catherine Palace.... What we build, we can rebuild. Their essence endures."

In Paris, the fire brigade could be seen in videos dousing the blaze with water.

Photos and videos on social media showed the roof of the 850-year-old Notre Dame building covered in flames, issuing a plume of smoke above the city, in a fire which may be linked to renovation work.

The emergency services were trying to salvage the priceless artwork stored in the cathedral.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo described it as a “terrible fire” and urged people at the scene to stay safe.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: Our Lady of Paris in flames. Emotion of a whole nation. Thought for all Catholics and for all French. Like all our countrymen, I’m sad tonight to see this part of us burn.”

Ashley Huntington, 21, an American university student studying in Paris, said: “Our class ran what was supposed to be 30 minutes walking but we probably got here in 20 running.

“You could just get close and see the smoke. The smoke is everywhere in the sky. It seems like more pieces of the scaffolding are currently falling.”

She added: “It just looks like it’s out of control. I’ve never seen a fire in real life but the flames keep getting bigger and bigger. I don’t think it’s getting better at all.

“The police right now are definitely making sure the public is cleared away. We keep getting pushed further and further away.”