California wildfire started by gender-reveal party

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A wildfire that has scorched more than 12 square kilometres of brush and trees and prompted the evacuation of a city of 54,000 people, plus several surrounding communities, was sparked at a gender-reveal party, fire officials said Sunday.

Cal Fire Law Enforcement said it had determined that the El Dorado Fire burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnical device used at a gender-reveal party held at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 150 kilometres east of Los Angeles. 

The blaze has prompted the evacuation of the city of 54,000, plus several surrounding communities, Cal Fire said in a written statement released late Sunday.

“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 blaze covers nearly 2,900 hectares and is only five per cent contained, the fire authority said.

Evacuation orders for the area include Oak Glen, a farm community that just opened its apple-picking season to the public. 

A plume of smoke from the El Dorado fire, caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnical device used at a gender-reveal party, is seen from Interstate 10 in Loma Linda, Calif., Saturday. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Associated Press)

Cal Fire said more than 14,800 firefighters were battling 23 major 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. The blazes have burned more than 600,000 hectares. There have been eight fire deaths and nearly 3,300 structures destroyed.

A heat wave was expected to spread high temperatures over much of California through Monday. Temperatures in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles reached 47 C on Saturday, and it could be even hotter on Sunday, forecasters said.

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 amid 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, named the Creek Fire, started Friday and by Saturday afternoon exploded to 145 square kilometres, jumped the San Joaquin River and cut off the only road into the Mammoth Pool Campground, national forest spokesperson Dan Tune said. 

At least 2,000 structures were threatened in the area about 467 kilometres north of Los Angeles, where temperatures in the city’s San Fernando Valley reached 47 C.





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