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Fire investigators spot 'person of interest' on tapes (with audio)

AUSTIN — At least one person of interest has been spotted on the dozens of hours of videotapes investigators are sifting through to determine the cause of the weekend arson fire that gutted the venerable Governor’s Mansion in downtown Austin, the state fire marshal said today.

“There’s an indication that at least someone was here,” Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado told reporters assembled in front of the charred hull that has been home to 40 Texas governors dating back 152 years.

Maldonado said that officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are assisting in the investigation and that several calls phoned into a special hot line has provided authorities with some yet-to-be-disclosed leads in the case.

The Mansion, the nation’s fourth-oldest governor’s residence and the oldest west of the Mississippi River, was enveloped in flames early Sunday as more than 100 firefighters from Austin were summoned to the property that covers a full city block just southwest of the Texas Capitol grounds.

The imposing white home featuring six 29-feet-tall Greek revival columns has been unoccupied for the past several months while workers were restoring and moderning the residence. Gov. Rick Perry and his family have been living in a rented home in southwest Austin and were due to return to the mansion next spring.

The governor is traveling in Europe to promote trade and is due back in Austin on Tuesday. In a statement, Perry and his wife, Anita, have said they are “heartbroken” by the devastation caused by the fire.

Maldonado and Capt. Paul Schulze of the Texas Department of Public Safety sidestepped questions about whether the DPS troopers who patrol the Mansion’s grounds around the clock may have been asleep at the wheel when the fire started.

“Obvisously, anytime something like this happens, we don’t like it,” Schulze said.

Added Maldonado: “Bad people can do bad things whether you’re on guard or not.”

Tip Hot Line:

Anyone with information about the fire at the Governor’s Mansion may call 1-877-434-7345.