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Wayback Wednesday: The Capitol Fire of 1983

Today’s Wayback Wednesday marks the 32nd anniversary of the 1983 fire at the Texas Capitol. The electrical fire started in the early morning hours of February 6, 1983, marring then-Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby’s apartment behind the Senate chambers and killing a guest, a horse trainer from New Caney named Matt Hansen, who was staying in the apartment.

The fire came close to engulfing the upper house’s chambers entirely but was extinguished before causing significant structural damage to the nearly 100-year-old building. Even then-Gov. Mark White pitched in to fight the fire, ferrying oxygen tanks to stifled firefighters battling the blaze.

In the fire’s aftermath, the legislature created the Texas State Preservation Board to oversee the capitol grounds, and kicked off a decade of improvement projects, which included the construction of the Capitol extension.

One of the board’s first priorities was to replace the Goddess of Liberty atop the Capitol dome. The statue was replaced in 1986 with an aluminum replica. You can still see the original at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and below, you can watch Capitol architect Allen McCree explain the statue's replacement.

In 1989, the legislature approved the plan to build out the Capitol extension. Construction began in 1990 and was completed in 1993, adding 667,000 square feet to the Capitol grounds.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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