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Fire that gutted century-old Texas courthouse was set deliberately; suspect in custody

The fire that gutted the more than century-old courthouse was set deliberately, authorities said.
The fire that gutted the more than century-old courthouse was set deliberately, authorities said.(Courtesy photo)
Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 10:17 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 5, 2021 at 2:11 PM CST
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MASON, Texas (KWTX) - Only the stone walls were standing Friday after fire gutted the more than century-old Mason County courthouse overnight.

The fire that broke out Thursday night, evidently on the second floor of the 111-year-old building, was set deliberately, authorities said Friday.

A man was taken into custody in connection with the fire outside of Mason, Mason County Judge Jerry Bearden said early Friday afternoon.

The man is also believed to have set a fire at a house in Mason before the courthouse fire broke out, he said.

It wasn’t clear Friday evening whether the suspect to whom Bearden referred was the same man who led dozens of officers from multiple agencies on a high-speed chase on Interstate 35 from Georgetown to the southern edge of Waco.

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara confirmed the man arrested after the chase was wanted in connection with the courthouse fire and identified him as Nicholas Jarrett Miller, 41.

Firefighters were at the scene of the house fire when they got a call from the dispatch office across the street from the courthouse, Bearden said.

The dispatcher told them flames were coming from the second floor of the building.

The flames quickly spread.

“The second floor, the third floor and the roof were completely engulfed in a matter of minutes. You could see it from miles away,” Bearden said.

Crews from multiple agencies responded, but they weren’t able to save the building.

“What we have now are 111-year-old walls,” Bearden said.

“It’s just a terrible tragedy for the people here in the county.”

Preparations were underway for renovations at the time of the fire and county records and documents had been moved to another site, but the Mason County News reports the fire destroyed antique furniture including desks and judges’ benches.

“With God’s blessing, we’re going to be back ,” Bearden told the newspaper.

Construction of the courthouse started in 1909 and was completed the next year.

The courthouse is the county’s third.

The first, built in 1872, and the second, built in 1900, both also burned.

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