Today on the 2020 roulette: a California wildfire that’s currently ripping through San Bernardino County was started by a gender reveal party gone wrong.
The fire began at 10.23 am on Saturday, September 5 in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, a city located 16 kilometers (10 miles) east of San Bernardino. The El Dorado fire has since burned 2,990 hectares (7,386 acres) and is currently just 7 percent contained.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said late Sunday evening that the fire was “caused by a smoke generator pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party.”
“CAL FIRE reminds the public that 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,” the statement said.
In addition to the El Dorado fire, at least 10 other active wildfire incidents are currently occurring in California, according to CAL FIRE. By no coincidence, the state is also being gripped by a scorching heatwave, with thermostats in Los Angeles reporting a highest-ever temperature of 49.4°C (121°F) this weekend. On August 16, California's Death Valley reached a dizzying 54.4°C (130°F). Although the report is yet to be officially verified by the US National Weather Service, this could be the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth.
For those blissfully unaware, so-called gender reveal parties are an invention of the social media age whereby soon-to-be-parents announce their unborn baby’s sex through some kind of performative stunt. Typically it involves an act like popping a balloon containing stereotypical blue confetti to reveal it's a boy, for example, but some expectant parents go for more of a dramatic display involving fireworks, explosions, and other eccentric ideas.
Remarkably, this is not the first gender reveal party to start a wildfire. Back in April 2017, a gender reveal party in Arizona started a wildfire responsible for more than 19,000 scorched hectares (47,000 acres) across the state. There was even a case in 2019 when a woman in Iowa died after a gender reveal party involving a pipe bomb went awry.
Of course, gender reveal parties are not the only risk for starting wildfires. The National Park Service estimated that almost 85 percent of wildland fires in the US are caused by humans, most often resulting from unattended campfires, the burning of debris, equipment malfunctions, discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 15 percent are caused by natural causes, namely lightning strikes.
While wildfires are nothing new in some corners of the world, a large amount of research has clearly shown that human-driven climate change is increasing the wildfire risk in many parts of the world by creating warmer and drier conditions, increased drought, and a longer fire season.