An official ballot drop box at the Baldwin Park, California, library ignited Sunday night, potentially destroying election ballots inside, authorities said.
The fire started around 8 p.m. Sunday at the ballot box near Ramona and Baldwin Park boulevards, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Leslie Lua.
It was not immediately clear how the fire began, but Lua said that arson was being investigated as a possible cause.
Baldwin Park resident George Silva said he was out for a leisurely bike ride when he spotted the burning box. Firefighters were just arriving at the scene when he began broadcasting live on Facebook.
"You could see heavy clouds of smoke coming out of the ballot box," Silva said. "It looked like a chimney."
The last day to request a mail ballot for the Nov. 4 general election is Tuesday.
It took crews a little more than two hours to clear the area. At one point, firefighters had to shove a hose through the box opening to quench the flames. Later, they used a power saw to cut the box open.
Sgt. Juan Serrato of the Baldwin Park Police Department confirmed that police had taken custody of the damaged ballots, which were set to be transferred to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office on Monday. He could not say how many ballots were destroyed _ or salvaged _ in the blaze.
The fire comes amid record-breaking voter turnout in California: More than 1 million ballots have already been cast in the state, far exceeding mail-in ballot numbers from the same point in previous state elections. Nearly half of those ballots have been from L.A. County.
But the turnout is not without controversy. The California Republican Party has claimed responsibility for several unofficial ballot boxes that have popped up across the state in recent weeks. Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla called the boxes fake and misleading, but the GOP has defied cease-and-desist orders, claiming the unofficial boxes are legal under a 2016 state law that allows third parties to collect ballots on voters' behalf.
Monday also marks California's deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election. More than 400 secure drop boxes have been placed around the county since Oct. 5 for voters who wish to return their completed ballots early. In-person voting begins Oct. 24 at more than 760 vote centers in Los Angeles County, and mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 to be counted.
The county registrar-recorder's office did not immediately respond to requests for information about the burned ballots, but voters who suspect their ballot may have been damaged in the Baldwin Parkblaze can check the county's official ballot tracker for status updates.
(c)2020 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.