AUSTIN, Texas - Arson is suspected in a fire that swept through the historic Texas governor's mansion early Sunday, leaving much of the 152-year-old building charred and severely damaged, the state fire marshal said.
No one was believed to be inside when the fire started at the home, whose roof buckled because of the flames and the massive amount of water used to put them out. Officials said there is no evidence any direct threat was intended to Gov. Rick Perry, who is out of the country with his wife, Anita.
"We are heartbroken by the fire that has ravaged the Texas Governors Mansion," Perry said in a prepared statement. "It has not only been our home for the past eight years, but has stood as a symbol of Texas pride throughout its history. Though it can certainly be rebuilt, what Texas has lost today can never be replaced."
All historic furnishings and heirlooms had been removed for a 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.
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.
"We're going to come get the person that's responsible for causing this damage," said state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado. "We believe that we may be looking at a criminal act here."
"There were some working cameras and surveillance video and all of that is useful to us and that is part of what we are using to help us with this investigation," Maldonado said.
About 100 firefighters responded when an alarm went off just before 2 a.m. The mansion has been unoccupied since the Perrys temporarily moved out last fall so the mansion could undergo the $10 million renovation. It was scheduled to be completed next year.
No injuries were reported, and there was no immediate financial estimate of the damage.
Small hot spots still smoldered more than six hours after the fire began. Puffs of smoke billowed from the building.
Braun & Butler Construction had been working on the maintenance and renovations. Among the improvement projects were an overhaul of the plumbing, removal of lead paint and asbestos — and installation of a fire sprinkler system.
The mansion was equipped with a fire alarm. A state trooper who was on the grounds as part of regular security detail heard an alarm go off, then saw flames and called the fire department, said Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The governor uses the mansion as a home and for official functions, such as hosting heads of state and for gathering with lawmakers and the news media.
The Perrys have been living in a rented home elsewhere in Austin during the renovation work. They were in Sweden on Sunday as part of a European economic development trip and were scheduled to return to Texas on Tuesday.
Built in 1856, the home 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.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was sending in a national response team to assist the investigation.