Arson suspected in massive fire at Texas courthouse

MASON, Texas (AP) — A suspect has been arrested been taken into custody following a massive fire that destroyed all but the rock outer walls of an 111-year-old Texas courthouse, an official says.

The fire at the Mason County Courthouse in Mason, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Austin, started Thursday night. No one was in the building. Mason County Judge Jerry Bearden said the flames could be seen from miles away.

“Right now, it’s just a shell,” he told television station KXAN. “It just breaks your heart to look at it.”

He told The Associated Press on Friday that fire investigators suspect arson in both the courthouse fire and another blaze around the same time at a house about a mile away.

The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office said in a statement that it has joined law enforcement agencies investigating the fire, but a spokesperson would offer no details on the investigation Friday. The county sheriff has not returned a message from the AP.

The courthouse, made from local sandstone, was being prepared for renovations, so all of the county records had been moved out, Bearden said. He said only some furnishings were in the building.

He said the firefighters “did their best” but “there wasn’t anything they could really do to hold the flames down.”

Bearden said the courthouse’s bell tower, which featured a clock, was destroyed.

“It’s just a terrible tragedy for the people here in the county,” Bearden said. “This is the focal point in our community, our county.”

Bearden said officials will have an engineer check the outer walls in hopes of eventually rebuilding the “grand old lady.”

Mason County has a population of about 4,300.

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