- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) | Arson is suspected in the fire that struck the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion early Sunday, causing damage that state officials described as “bordering on catastrophic,” the state fire marshal said.

No one was inside the 152-year-old mansion at the time, said Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. The mansion has been undergoing a $10 million renovation, and Mr. Perry and his wife, Anita, had moved out last fall.

“We have some evidence that indicates that we do have an intentionally set fire,” said state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado.

He did not give details on how the fire might have been set or whether there was a suspect, but he said there were security cameras.

State officials said they hoped the Greek Revival-style mansion had not been destroyed, but the damage clearly was extensive.

“It is bordering on catastrophic. The roof has not yet collapsed. The structure is still intact,” Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

However, the roof had buckled in places and the building was blackened, including parts of the six 29-foot columns standing at the front. In some places, white paint had burned away to reveal the original color of the brick.

“They built them pretty sturdy back then,” Mr. Black said. “Nonetheless, it’s taken quite a beating this morning.”

Mr. Black said some interior ornamentation was damaged beyond repair. Two white front-porch swings appeared to be unscathed.

The mansion is a national historic landmark. Built in 1856, it is the oldest continually used executive residence west of the Mississippi, according to the group Friends of the Governor’s Mansion, which works to preserve and show the public the historic building.

A state trooper who was on the grounds as part of regular security detail heard the mansion’s fire alarm, saw flames and called the fire department.

Mr. Perry and his wife were in Stockholm on Sunday as part of a European trip. They are scheduled to return Tuesday.

Mr. Black said all furniture and historic artifacts had been removed from the mansion before the renovations began.

The mansion had a fire alarm but no sprinkler system. Mr. Black said installation of a fire suppression system was among the renovations that began in October.

The governor uses the mansion as a home and for official functions, such as hosting heads of state or dignitaries.

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