California wildfire started by gender-reveal party

A couple’s plan to reveal their baby’s gender went up not in blue or pink smoke but in flames when the device they used sparked a wildfire that burned thousands of acres and forced people to flee from a city east of Los Angeles.

The fire prompted evacuations in parts of Yucaipa, a city of 54,000, and the surrounding area. Water-dropping helicopters were brought in but the fire has proven stubborn — it grew to 30 square kilometres by Monday morning and more than 500 firefighters on the scene only had minimal containment. No homes have burned and no injuries were reported.

“Cal Fire reminds the public that with the dry conditions and critical fire weather it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire,” the statement said. 

“Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible.”

The fire started Saturday morning at El Ranch Dorado Park, a rugged natural area popular with hikers and dog owners. In summer the park’s tall natural grasses dry out and turn golden, and when combined with the San Bernardino Mountains in the distance, provide a popular backdrop for family photos and videos.

The unidentified couple chose the location to reveal their baby’s gender. They were accompanied by their young children and had a friend or relative recording on a cell phone, said Capt. Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Smoke from wildfires burning east of Los Angeles dims the sunrise on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, seen from Pasadena, Calif. (John Antczak/The Associated Press)

Wildfires have burned more than 8,000 square kilometres in California this year, setting a new state record even as crews battled dozens of growing fires in sweltering temperatures Monday that strained the electrical grid and threatened power outages for millions.

The previous record was 7,931 square kilometres burned in 2018. Cal Fire began keeping the records in 1987.

Cal Fire said more than 14,800 firefighters were battling fires in the state. Despite the heat, firefighters were able to contain two major fires in coastal Monterey County.

California has seen 900 wildfires since Aug. 15, many of them started by an intense series of thousands of lightning strikes. There have been eight fire deaths and nearly 3,300 structures destroyed.

More than 200 people were airlifted to safety early Sunday after a fast-moving wildfire trapped them in a popular camping area in California’s Sierra National Forest. It was one of several fires that broke out during record-breaking temperatures that baked the state.

The California Office of Emergency Services said Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters were used for the rescues that began late Saturday and continued overnight.

Dozens of evacuees are seen onboard a California National Guard Chinook helicopter on Saturday. (California National Guard via AP)

At least two people were severely injured and 10 more suffered moderate injuries. Two campers refused rescue and stayed behind, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office said.

A photo tweeted by the National Guard showed at least 20 evacuees crammed inside one helicopter, crouched on the floor clutching their belongings.

In another photo taken on the ground from the cockpit, the densely wooded hills surrounding the aircraft were in flames.

WATCH | Trapped by wildfire, campers describe scene as ‘armageddon’: 

More than 200 people trapped by a California wildfire were airlifted from a campground in the Sierra National Forest on Sunday as the state sets a record with more than two million acres having been consumed by fire this season. 2:06

The wildfire dubbed the Creek Fire has charred more than 295 square kilometres of timber since breaking out Friday. The 850 firefighters on the scene had yet to get any containment after three days of work in sweltering heat. There was no official tabulation yet of structures lost.

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