California wildfire: Gender reveal party sparks huge blaze forcing hundreds to evacuate

Fire broke out on Saturday,  emergency services said

Gender reveal party sparks California fire forcing hundreds to evacuate

A California forest fire that has destroyed thousands of acres of land resulting in hundreds of residents being evacuated from their homes was started by a firework used at a gender-reveal party, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has said.

In a statement released late on Sunday evening, Cal Fire said the blaze tearing through El Dorado and the surrounding areas was caused by a smoke generating "pyrotechnic device", used during “a gender reveal party”.

Gender-reveal parties are events where parents who are soon to have a baby announce whether they are expecting a boy or a girl. The parties have become increasingly popular in the US in recent years.

The fire began on Saturday morning at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 72 miles (115km) east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire said. It has since spread north to Yucaipa Ridge, prompting local officials to issue evacuation orders in the surrounding areas of Oak Glen, Mountain Home Village, and Forest Falls.

"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," Cal Fire added.

The El Dorado blaze, which Cal Fire says has obliterated around 7,050 acres of woodland, has only been 5 per cent contained. It is one of a number of large fires currently rampaging through parts of the state during a record-breaking heatwave.

California governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a state of emergency in the Frenso, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the fires.

Emergency services said 200 people were airlifted to safety overnight on Friday when a fast-moving blaze dubbed the Creek Fire cut off the only road out of the Mammoth Pool Reservior, a popular recreational site in California's Sierra National Forest.

Madera County Sheriff's Office Department said on Sunday that 20 of those evacuees were taken to hospital as the blaze burned through 45,000 acres, forcing evacuations and road closures in the Frenso area of California, about 150 miles southeast of San Jose.

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 added, and there was no immediate update on their condition.

The Creek Fire churned southward from the reservoir through miles of dense forest and by Sunday afternoon threatened a marina and cabins along Shaver Lake, where Jack Machado helped friends remove propane tanks from the lodge Cottages at the Point. Sheriff’s deputies went through the town of several hundred residents to make sure people complied with evacuation orders.

“The lake is totally engulfed with smoke. You can’t hardly see in front of you,” Machado told Associated Press. “The sky’s turning red. It looks like Mars out there.”

Temperatures in the fire zone were in the 90s, but that was cool compared to many parts of the state. Downtown Los Angeles reached 111°F (44°C) and a record-shattering high of 121°F (49.4°C) was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley.

It was the highest temperature ever recorded in Los Angeles County, according to the National Weather Service. The mark rivaled the high in California’s Death Valley, typically the hottest place in the country.

Meanwhile, Downtown San Francisco set a record for the day with a high of 100°F (37.7°C), smashing the previous mark by 5 degrees.

“By our calculations, over 99 per cent of California’s population is under an excessive heat warning or heat advisory today,” the weather service in Sacramento tweeted Sunday afternoon.

The exceptionally hot temperatures were driving the highest power use of the year, and transmission losses because of the wildfires have cut into supplies. Eric Schmitt of the California Independent System Operator that manages the state’s power grid said up to 3 million customers faced power outages if residents didn’t curtail their electricity usage.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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