A serious fire broke out this morning in the roof and top floor of the legendary Ritz hotel in Paris, with plumes of smoke visible across the French capital.
Initial reports suggest the entire top floor has been destroyed just weeks from the hotel's scheduled reopening after a major renovation project, while people were evacuated from nearby buildings.
Around 15 fire engines responded on the scene, and a fire service spokesman told BFM TV a "large" part of the five-star hotel was affected.
Captain Yvon Bot, a spokesman for the Paris fire brigade, said: "No one has been hurt...Our concern is to stop the fire spreading to the whole of the roof and seventh floor."
The fire is believed to have started in a top floor area and spread to the roof at around 6am local time. The hotel is currently empty while it undergoes a €200 million refurbishment, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
People posted images to Twitter of the fire, seen from across the French capital, as well as images from the scene suggesting police have shut off a large part of the Place Vendôme in the 1st Arrondissement.
The original Ritz, the hotel was where Princess Diana and Dodi el-Fayed spent the last days before their deaths in 1997.
Owned by Dodi’s father Mohammed el-Fayed, it has been undergoing a top-to-bottom renovation since August 2012. It was due to reopen in March after several delays.
Although there seemed not to be significant damage to most of the historic structure, built in 1898 by the Swiss businessman Cesar Ritz, the reopening due in six weeks' time will almost certainly have to be delayed for many months.
The Ritz used to be the Paris hotel of choice for royalty and film stars. It is celebrated amongst other things for being the birthplace of the Bloody Mary (vodka and tomato juice). Its main bar was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s and is now named after him.
A decision was taken to rebuild the hotel in 2012, after it failed to meet the demanding new standards to qualify for “palace” status introduced for luxury hotels by the city of Paris.
In late August 1997, the Princess of Wales and Dodi el-Fayed stayed at the Ritz just before their fatal car jouney. On the night of their deaths, they left from the back service door of the hotel to try to evade photographers.
Their car crashed in an underpass beside the river Seine as they drove by a roundabout route to Dodi’s flat just off the Champs Elysées.
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