Flames engulf the Copenhagen's Stock Exchange building on April 16, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

COPENHAGEN:   A huge fire on Tuesday tore through Copenhagen’s 17th-century former stock exchange, toppling the historic building’s landmark spire in front of horrified and emotional witnesses.

Amid flames and black smoke, the 54-metre (180-foot) spire crashed into the street below the the Borsen building, which had been undergoing renovation.

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“This is our Notre-Dame! This is a national treasure,” local resident, 45-year-old Elisabeth Moltke, told AFP as she watched the blaze. Other witnesses watched in tears as more than 100 firefighters battled to save the building.

“A lot of old Danish paintings, originals are in there. I’ve been in there several times and it’s a magnificent building so it makes me feel very emotional,” added Moltke.

The fire started at around 7:30am (0530 GMT) under the red-brick building’s copper roof, emergency services told reporters.

As flames and huge plumes of black smoke billowed from the rooftop, fire trucks surrounded the building, covered in scaffolding and canvas, which today houses the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

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Image Credit: AFP

Danish rescue services said that they could not give “any guarantees” that the facade of the building could be saved.

“The facades are still standing, but they are starting to give way as the construction burns away,” director of emergency services Jakob Vedsted Andersen told reporters.

“We are trying everything we can to protect the facades, but we cannot give any guarantees,” he added.

“It’s a copper roof, and it’s simply impossible to get under that roof, so the fire has plenty of time to build intensity,” Vedsted Andersen told the Ritzau news agency.

The Borsen building, close to the Christiansborg parliament and seat of government, was commissioned by King Christian IV and built between 1619 and 1640. It is one of Copenhagen’s oldest and best known landmarks.

Image Credit: AFP

Housing a vast art collection, it was being renovated to celebrate its 400th anniversary.

“Terrifying images from Borsen this morning. 400 years of Danish cultural heritage going up in flames,” Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The images recalled the disaster at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, almost five years ago to the day it was gutted by a fire. In Paris as well, onlookers shed tears as fire brought down the ancient spire.

Witnesses in Copenhagen also fought to hold back tears as they watched the devastation.

“I’m lost for words... It’s a 400-year-old building that has survived all the other fires that burned Copenhagen down to the ground,” said Carsten Lundberg, an employee at the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a dreadful loss,” Lundberg said, adding that what was inside were “things that you cannot put a price on... priceless paintings, statues.”

Rushing to save art

Engel-Schmidt said he had been moved to see employees, rescue workers and residents trying to “rescue art treasures and iconic paintings from the burning building.”

Images from the scene showed several people carrying works of art, including a painting of the building.

Forces from the Danish military were also called to the scene, in particular to try to evacuate artworks.

“We are currently working hard to save our historical art from Borsen,” the Chamber of Commerce said in a post to X.

The most valuable paintings in the building were quickly moved to the nearby National Museum of Denmark.

Speaking outside the burning building, Copenhagen mayor Sophie Haestorp Andersen said the city and the Danish Chamber of Commerce had already decided to try and restore the building, however the details, including funding, would have to be decided.

“This is part of the story of the building of our city, a story that we can’t just leave in a sea of flames, and therefore we will do everything we can to rebuild this,” she told reporters.

Echoing the sentiment, Engel-Schmidt said he would “do everything I can so that the spire will once again tower over Copenhagen.”

Police said they had blocked off parts of the city centre as part of the fire-fighting efforts.