A massive blaze continues to burn Monday near homes in the Yucaipa area three days after a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device ignited the fire during a gender reveal party at a park.
The El Dorado Fire was only 7% contained after charring about 9,671 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest near the west Yucaipa and Oak Glen communities, according to authorities.
The flames picked up before dawn Monday after briefly calming down at midnight, officials said.
“The fire dropped off of Yucaipa Ridge toward the Pine Bench area overnight,” said an update on the federal website InciWeb. “A large plume dominated column collapsed yesterday afternoon, pushing back down into the fire and spreading fire in several directions.”
The blaze pushed south across Yucaipa’s northeast edge, triggering changes to evacuation orders, which now include parts of Riverside County.
“Fire continues to back down Yucaipa Ridge toward Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls, but remains mid-slope on the ridge above those communities,” the website said.
Air quality officials asked those affected by the heavy smoke rising over the Inland Empire to stay inside and keep doors and windows closed.
Santa Ana winds arriving Tuesday are expected to complicate firefighting efforts.
“Because of that wind event, we’re going to be considering additional evacuation advisories,” U.S. Forest Service Incident Commander Chris Fogle said. ”They will expand further out into the city of Yucaipa and further west out into midtown, just as a preparatory effort in case the winds pick up the fire, and it jumps the control lines and continues to push in a westerly direction.”
Residents can sign up for emergency alerts from San Bernardino County here and from Riverside County here. The Red Cross has also set up a reception site for evacuees at the Yucaipa Community Center at the Redlands East Valley High School’s cafeteria on 31000 E. Colton Ave.
With more than 600 firefighters battling the blaze, authorities confirmed that two firefighters were injured but did not provide further details on their condition Monday night.
Authorities have not confirmed damage to homes. Some structures at 14-acre “family fun park” Oak Tree Mountain, including a petting zoo area, had burned, according to owner Precious Dykstra.
“Twenty-eight years — I’ve been through a couple fires up here, but nothing like this one,” Dykstra said.
According to Cal Fire, the party that ignited the fire around 10:20 a.m. Saturday was held at El Dorado Ranch Park.
The small device used is supposed to emit a colored smoke indicating the baby’s sex, Cal Fire spokesman Bennett Milloy said. The device accidentally lit nearby grass on fire, and the family tried to put out the flames using water bottles, he said.
“That’s just ineffective in 4-foot-tall grass,” Milloy said.
They called 911 and have cooperated with law enforcement, he said. The couple — who had young children with them — provided video and photos to help investigators, Milloy told the Associated Press.
“It’s a pretty tragic situation,” he told the wire service. “Obviously this was supposed to be a happy event.”
If the action is deemed reckless, the individual who lit the fire could face criminal charges and be held liable for firefighting costs, Milloy said.
The flames spread north from the location to Yucaipa Ridge, which separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the city of Yucaipa, Cal Fire said.
The agency urged caution, saying that “it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire” during hot and dry weather.
It’s not the first time a gender reveal party ignited a massive wildfire.
In 2017, a stunt in which an off-duty Border Patrol agent in Arizona shot a target revealing the baby’s gender sparked a 47,000-acre wildfire. It caused more than $8 million in damages, officials said.
Milloy told AP that the devices used in some gender reveals contain chemicals that can cause fires but are otherwise harmless. The device that caused the El Dorado Fire will be tested to find out what was in it, he said.