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A cigarette may have caused a fire outside AG Ken Paxton's office. In a dumpster. A dumpster fire.

  A screenshot of a dumpster fire outside the Texas AG's office shows a small blaze on Wednesday, May 24th
A screenshot of a dumpster fire outside the Texas AG's office shows a small blaze on Wednesday, May 24th

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday arrested a person who allegedly started a dumpster fire outside of the offices of the state’s attorney general.

The fire was apparently sparked by a lit cigarette and was unintentionally set, according to a tweet from Attorney General Ken Paxton. But as innocuous as it might have been, the blaze still added yet another twist to the days-long saga that’s gripped the state Capitol amid epic infighting between the Texas House and Paxton, the state’s top lawyer.

The fire began Wednesday evening, hours after the Texas House General Investigating Committee held a public hearing and detailed its investigation into what led up to a $3.3 million settlement between Paxton and his former employees-turned-whistleblowers. The former employees said they were fired in 2020 after reporting an array of alleged misdeeds by the Republican attorney general to officials.

Sound complicated? Wait, there’s more.

Let’s back up to Tuesday, when Paxton surprised lawmakers and reporters — along with almost everyone following the state’s current 140-day legislative session — by calling for House Speaker Dade Phelan’s resignation. Paxton accused Speaker Phelan, who is also a Republican, of being drunk at the House dais during a recent floor session.

In response, Phelan's communications director Cait Wittman suggested the attorney general made his comments after learning his office was under investigation.

“Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face," she said in a statement Tuesday.

OK, back to the fire.

As part of its investigation, the House committee instructed Paxton’s office to preserve certain documents. So, as expected, social media lit up Wednesday night after videos of the fire surfaced online. Scott Braddock, a veteran reporter and editor of the Quorum Report, posted a video of the fire that showed “maybe some documents” ablaze.

The fire was quickly extinguished, and Paxton’s office tweeted out a plea for information related to the “arson” that occurred outside his offices.

Thursday morning, though, he clarified the fire was unintentional.

“The 42-year-old female was charged with criminal mischief equal to or greater than $25,000 but less than $30,000,” Paxton’s office said in a statement posted to Twitter. “DPS questioned the suspect over possible political motivations and have preliminarily determined the fire was unintentional.”

Paxton ended the updated statement by admonishing the press — which is nothing new for the AG – and others for fueling speculation about what caused the fire or who was responsible.

“I have no doubt that those with the responsibility for informing the public of the truth will issue retractions and apologize for spreading disinformation about this incident,” the statement reads.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar