Fire engulfs historic French church

Firefighters have subdued a blaze which tore through the towering Basilica of Saint Donatien in France, setting off a scramble to rescue the church’s artworks and relics.

The fire engulfed the roof of the building, sending flames and smoke billowing above the historic city of Nantes.

Valuable artworks were rushed out of the church in time but water used to fight the flames spilled into the neo-Gothic structure.

Rev. Michel Bonnet, the basilica’s priest, said a construction crew had been on the roof of the 125-year-old building using a blowtorch when the fire broke out.

“It’s a rather classic accident when there’s work with torches,” said firefighter chief Frédéric Leguiller who lead a team of 90 rescue workers battling the flames.

Bonnet said he expected the church to remain closed for months.

“We will have to rebuild of course and find another place for the Catholic community,” he said.

The basilica was designed in 1871, when church officials vowed to build a majestic structure if Nantes was spared from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war.