Gender-reveal party culprit in massive California wildfire: officials

A firework at a gender-reveal party triggered a wildfire in southern California that’s scorched more than 7,000 acres and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes, local fire officials said.

The fire was caused by a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” used at a party Saturday morning in El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 140 kilometres east of Los Angeles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said on Sunday.

“The fire spread from the park to the north on to Yucaipa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa,” Cal Fire officials said in a press release.

“With the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire. Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible,” the statement said.

The fire has since destroyed 7,050 acres and prompted several cities to issue evacuations orders. More than 500 people have been deployed to fight the fire, along with 60 fire engines and four helicopters, according to the Cal Fire website.

As of Monday, only five per cent of the blaze has been contained, the website also stated.

California has seen 900 wildfires since Aug. 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. The blazes have burned more than 1.5 million acres and there have been eight deaths blamed on the fires and nearly 3,300 structures destroyed.

This is not the first time a gender-reveal party has prompted a fire.

In April 2017, a gender-reveal stunt caused a fire Green Valley, Ariz., which torched nearly 47,000 acres and caused more than $8 million in damage.

Dennis Dickey, 37, of Tucson, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanour charge in connection with the Sawmill Fire. The off-duty border patrol agent said he was trying to surprise his family with the gender of his wife’s unborn child.

In October 2019, a 56-year-old woman in Iowa died after a gender-reveal announcement resulted in an explosion. The investigation found the woman was struck by a flying piece of debris from the explosion.

Authorities say the family was “experimenting with different types of explosive material” in order to create something that would capture attention on social media.

— With files from Global News’ Josh Elliott and the Associated Press

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