AUSTIN, Texas - Arson is suspected in a fire that swept through the historic Texas governor's mansion early yesterday, leaving much of the 152-year-old building charred and severely damaged, the state fire marshal said.
No one was believed to have been inside when the fire started in the building, whose roof buckled because of the flames and the massive amount of water used to put them out. Officials said there was no evidence any direct threat was intended to Gov. Rick Perry, who is out of the country with his wife, Anita.
The mansion has been unoccupied since the Perrys moved out last fall so it could undergo a $10 million renovation, scheduled to be completed next year. The house was built in 1856 and is believed to be the oldest continually used gubernatorial residence west of the Mississippi.
All historic furnishings and heirlooms had been removed for the renovation project, but much of the wood in the Greek revival-style mansion was "completely irreplaceable" longleaf pine, said Robert Black, a Perry spokesman. Some interior ornamentation is beyond repair, he said.
Parts of the six 29-foot columns at the front of the home, a national historic landmark, and much of the front wall were charred black. In some places the original color of the brick could be seen where white paint had burned off.
"We have some evidence that indicates that we do have an intentionally set fire," state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado said. "So we believe that we may be looking at a criminal act here."
Calling it a "devastating loss to the state of Texas," Maldonado provided no details on how the fire might have been set or whether authorities had a suspect.
Security cameras are set up around the mansion, which sits downtown on a lot the size of a city block, and investigators were interviewing people who were nearby and might have noticed suspicious activity.