A “gender reveal” party hosted by expectant parents is partly to blame for wildfires spreading across California.
Authorities have revealed that an explosion from a “smoke generating pyrotechnic device” sparked the blaze at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa where there are now 500 firefighters battling to save bushland and nearby towns.
It’s believed a family had set off fireworks that were meant to shoot out blue or pink smoke to signal to friends and relatives whether they were expecting a boy or girl.
But the announcement went awry when a spark set fire to dry grass and soon spread flames through the park towards homes, with 3000 hectares so far impacted by that one blaze alone.
This is not the first time such parties – popular on Instagram – have caused devastation in the US. CNN reports that in 2017 a gender reveal party in Arizona sparked a wildfire that caused more than $8 million in damage.
As well as the El Dorado fire, which started on Saturday (local time), large ongoing blazes have trapped campers and continue to threaten nearby homes during a record-breaking heatwave.
Eight people have been killed and some 3300 structures have been destroyed over the past three weeks in wildfires across the state.
Firefighters are preparing for more dangerous conditions as hot and dry weather continues for another day.
The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still 0 per cent contained as of Tuesday morning (Australian time).
The blaze continued to grow under “extreme weather conditions” to devour nearly 32,000 hectares of land while a cause remained under investigation, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said in a statement.
Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged residents to leave if they felt unsafe.
“Life safety is always the priority. Fire crews remain protecting structures in the communities affected as well as using retardant and water drops from aircraft equipped for night operations to continue to build line around the fire,” San Bernardino National Forest said in its latest update.
“Due to the number of fires across California and the West, firefighting resources are in short supply.”
On Monday, a Forest Services spokesperson told local media up to 1500 people were sheltering from the rapidly expanding fire front. All up, 224 had been evacuated in rescue missions continuing on Tuesday morning (Australian time).
In a terrifying video posted on Twitter, camper Jeremy Remington showed the wildfire burning down to the banks of the reservoir.
“We’re completely trapped. There’s fire on all sides, all around us,” Mr Remington said.
“All the roads are burnt, there’s fire everywhere.”
Three major fires, including the Creek Fire, were burning in Fresno, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, the agency said in a statement, adding it had increased staffing in preparation for “critical fire weather”.
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CAL FIRE Law Enforcement has determined the El Dorado Fire, burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County, was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party. The fire began at 10:23 am on September 5, 2020 in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. 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.
A post shared by CAL FIRE San Bernardino Unit (@calfirebdu) on
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department issued a voluntary evacuation order on Sunday afternoon as the major Valley Fire raged unchecked on the eastern edge of the metropolitan area of more than three million people.
“The sky is so thick by my house; the sky is a dirty brown cloud and I live about 25 minutes to the west of the fire,” Twitter user Cris Mel said in a post. “It’s kind of a struggle to breathe.”
A dangerous heat wave was baking swaths of the western United States through the weekend and many locations in California registered record temperatures on Sunday.
It reached 49 C on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles County, a record for the National Weather Service office that covers the metropolitan area.