California gender-reveal couple blamed for 7,000-acre El Dorado wildfire may have to foot bill for destruction
Bennett Milloy of California's Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection said the duo partying was still on scene when firefighters arrived, 'It started because they were still there'
A firework at a gender reveal party triggered a wildfire in Southern California that has destroyed 7,000 acres and forced many residents to flee their homes, the fire department said Sunday. More than 500 firefighters and four helicopters were battling the El Dorado blaze east of San Bernardino, which started Saturday morning, Cal Fire said.
The couple whose "gender-reveal party sparked the El Dorado wildfire" could be liable to foot the bill for the destruction, which is reportedly expected to cost millions of dollars, a fire official has revealed. "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 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a news release Sunday. "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."
The authority stressed that "it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire" in dry conditions and that “those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible.”
Bennett Milloy, a spokesperson for California's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Daily Mail that the duo hosting the party was still on the scene when firefighters arrived. "We know how it started because they were still there," Milloy said. "That, and the fact that there were surveillance cameras in the park."
While it is unknown if they are local residents, Milloy said they are liable to foot the entire bill for dousing the blaze and that it could cost millions of dollars in "suppression costs."
Furthermore, the couple could also face a variety of criminal charges depending on if homes were destroyed. Milloy said the family could face violations of public resources codes and even arson under California's penal code section 452, which can result in sentences of up to nine years in prison. "They genuinely believed it was an accident," Milloy added. "But I think now they understand the gravity of the situation."
Milloy did not disclose names but said details would be released if charges are pressed. According to the latest update on the fire department's website, the El Dorado fire has burned over 7,000 acres as of Monday evening and is only 7% contained.
Last month, the White House approved California's request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration in order to facilitate the state's emergency response to wildfires burning across the state. The declaration "makes funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo who have suffered financial losses due to the wildfires," Fox News reported.
The state's 2020 budget, per the release, includes $85.6 million in funding for permanent firefighting positions and for technology to help Cal Fire "model fire behavior." Meanwhile, FEMA is also offering Fire Management Assistance Grants, which "offers 75% of the cost to be covered by federal funding while a state pays the remaining 25%," Fox News reported.
More than 2 million acres have been scorched by wildfires in the Golden State this year, which is a record already despite firefighters still battling dozens of blazes that have strained the electrical grid and threatened mass power outages. That said, the record has been set rather early, considering the most dangerous part of the year is still ahead. “It’s a little unnerving because September and October are historically our worst months for fires,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told the Associated Press. “It’s usually hot, and the fuels really dry out. And we see more of our wind events.”
According to Cal Fire, which began tracking numbers in 1987, the previous high was recorded in 2018, when wildfires burned through 1.96 million acres (793,184 hectares) of land.
At least 15,000 firefighters were working to put out the raging flames at the time of writing. According to them, the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better. "The National Weather Service has issued multiple Fire Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings for this weekend and into next week due to potential critical fire weather including strong gusty wind and low humidity," the fire service said in a statement.