MASON, Texas (KXAN) — The 111-year-old Mason County Courthouse caught fire Thursday night, soon became engulfed in flames and appears to be a near-total loss. Law enforcement says a man named Nicholas Miller is suspected of starting the fire.
Miller was allegedly involved in a police pursuit Friday morning.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said at about 10:40 a.m., Georgetown police tried to stop a Ford F-350 on Interstate 35 northbound in Williamson County. The truck didn’t stop and fled from officers, DPS said. Troopers took over the pursuit in Jarrell.
The truck went until mile marker 328, which is south of Waco, where the suspect finally stopped and surrendered. They’re expecting to charge the driver, who was booked into McLennan County Jail, with felony evading arrest with a motor vehicle.
KXAN’s sister station in Waco, KWKT, confirmed with McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara that Miller was arrested for his suspected involvement in the pursuit and the Mason County Courthouse fire.
Around 12:15 p.m. Friday, Mason County Judge Jerry Bearden did say authorities took a man into custody outside of Mason County. He said the “slow pursuit” happened before the suspect was apprehended. Authorities believe he started the fire that burned the courthouse and also a home in Mason.
“We are strong enough, and we will rebuild,” Bearden told KXAN early Friday morning while watching the courthouse burn.
The courthouse fire started around 10 p.m. Thursday. By 1:30 a.m., Bearden said the only thing left was the historic courthouse’s outer rock wall structure. The building was being prepared for renovations at the time of the fire. All county records and documents had been moved to a safe location in December 2020.
Bearden said renovations had not yet started in earnest before the fire. He said architects took paint samples and pictures inside the building, but work was not supposed to start until May.
Multiple fire departments responded including the Mason and Llano volunteer fire departments. Firefighters will be there throughout the night and the fire marshal will be on scene Friday morning around 9 a.m.
Judge Bearden said Saturday authorities were working to get to the second floor of the courthouse as they continued their investigation. He also said the county is taking donations that would go toward rebuilding the courthouse.
Social media livestream
One man says he saw the police pursuit unfold on social media.
“I at one time in the past had accepted him, I guess, his Facebook request,” said Tracy Pitcox, who said because he is in the radio business he often accepts requests from people he doesn’t necessarily know.
Pitcox says he saw the suspect go live on Facebook as police were chasing him. He showed KXAN the video.
“He says, ‘I ain’t hurt nobody, just burned a house down,’ so that’s what he said in one of his rants that he was going on,” Pitcox described. “Seeing him be live on Facebook being chased by all of these law enforcement officials, you know, it was just kind of an eerie feeling.”
House fire nearby preceded courthouse fire
Fire crews also responded to a nearby house fire 1.2 miles away on Ranck Avenue around the same time as the courthouse fire. Authorities now believe the fires are connected and started by the suspect they have in custody.
“We’re going to investigate everything,” Bearden said.
The Mason County Courthouse was built in 1909 with construction complete in 1910. It was the county’s third courthouse, Bearden said. He said the previous two also burned down prior to 1909.
Bearden talked about the devastation the community is feeling during a live interview on KXAN, calling the courthouse their “grand old lady.”
“It’s something that everybody in the county here loved,” Bearden said. “It just breaks your heart to look at it.”
Bearden said firefighters did the best they could to keep the flames down, but ultimately “there wasn’t anything they could really do.”
“What we have left are 110-year-old walls,” he said. “It’s a terrible tragedy for people in the county. This is my 19th year being in office here, and I’ve been through floods and fires, but I’ve never had anything with a gut punch that I’ve had with this.”
Viewer videos of fire
Several viewers in Mason sent KXAN videos of the fire, and we compiled them into one two-minute clip. Some of the videos show the courthouse crumbling as it burns down, and you can hear the anguish and sadness in some of the people who recorded the fire.
Further down, we have a gallery of pictures Judge Bearden and others sent us of the courthouse fire and more KXAN photos of the house fire on Ranck Avenue.