Voting equipment destroyed in massive fire

August 27, 2010 8:22:17 PM PDT
A three-alarm warehouse fire could have a big impact on the November elections. The fire destroyed all of Harris County's voting machines. And on top of that, the fire may not have been an accident. The big question right now is how the fire at the warehouse on Canino at Downey started. The building was closed down for the night. No one was scheduled to work overnight. The fire, say investigators, started in the back, right side of the building.

By mid-afternoon, crews demolished unsalvageable parts of the warehouse. With every hot spot they hit, smoke would balloon into the air, just like opening a barbeque pit.

"About 27,000 square feet of a lot of steel and metal they're working their way through," said Houston Fire Department Spokesperson Pat Trahan.

Pinkie Fields lives a few hundred feet away. His mother and sister also live on this street.

"Scary, you know, because it could've been one of the houses down the street," he said.

The fire didn't spread but destroyed Harris County's election technology center, which is the building that houses some 10,000 pieces of election equipment, including the electronic voting systems we use when we go to the polls. It's the only place the county stores this type of equipment.

"Speaking to the clerk, she's confident that we'll be able to conduct the election in a timely manner," said Harris County Spokesperson Hector DeLeon.

Now, there's a big challenge, because as the November election nears, all that's left are skeletons of 800 caddies that held the voting machines. So while election officials scramble to seamlessly administer your votes, arson teams have the tough task of trying to figure out how this happened.

"Arson is called out. They have begun that task of trying to determine the cause," said Trahan. "No speculation of what the cause is at this point."

We're told there are no hazardous materials or chemicals inside. There was also not a sprinkler system, but officials tell us that buildings like this one aren't required to have one.

The fire burned for a long time. It's a huge space, so they have a lot to sift through to get to the point of origin. And officials say they're taking their time.

The county is trying to buy extra equipment, as well as borrow from other counties that use the same type of eSlate machines. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman says she believe that enough equipment can be purchased and borrowed in time for early voting in mid-October. The secretary of state's office has promised its full support.

The Harris County commissioners are holding an emergency meeting on Monday to pass any regulations that would smooth the election recovery.


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