PARIS (AP) -- The French general overseeing the reconstruction of fire-devastated Notre Dame Cathedral says the Paris landmark is not saved yet because there's still a risk its vaulted ceilings might collapse.
Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin told French broadcaster CNews on Sunday that "the cathedral is still in a state of peril" after last year's fire, which destroyed its roof and toppled its 300-foot, 750-ton spire as the cathedral was undergoing renovations.
"Notre Dame is not saved because ... there is an extremely important step ahead, which is to remove the scaffolding that had been built around the spire" before the fire, he said.
The rector of Notre Dame, Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, told the AP last month that the cathedral is still so fragile there's a "50% chance" the structure might not be saved, because the scaffolding may fall onto the vaulted ceilings.
A former chief of staff of France's armed forces, Georgelin was named by French President Emmanuel Macron to lead the reconstruction effort for Notre Dame.
He said the actual condition of the cathedral's vaults is not fully known, which means he could not guarantee that "it won't fall apart."
"To make sure, we need to inspect them, to remove the rubble that is still on them, it's a very difficult work that we have started," he said.
He also noted that the fire relea sed tons of toxic lead dust into the nearby air and ground, which needs to be cleaned up, a requirement that is slowing down the work.
Still, Georgelin says "reassuring" observations have been made by experts on the 12th-century cathedral since the April 15 inferno.
"So we feel quite confident" in the path we have chosen, he added.
The scaffolding on Notre Dame should be removed by mid-2020 and the restoration work should start next year, he said.
Macron has said he wants the 12th-century cathedral rebuilt by 2024, when Paris hosts the Summer Olympics, but experts say that time frame is not realistic.
Georgelin said no decision has been made yet about how the spire and the roof should be rebuilt and whether the frame for those should be in wood, metal or concrete.
The reconstruction of Notre Dame, whose first stone was laid in 1163, has prompted widespread debate across France, with differing views over whether it should involve new technologies and designs.
Macron has announced an international architects' competition for the reconstruction of the spire, which wasn't part of the original cathedral. Georgelin said the competition will take place later this year but he didn't rule out having the new spire built exactly like the old one.
"Only after that (competition), when the choice has been made, we will be able to rebuild the spire," he said.