A gender reveal party is the cause of the more than 20,000 acre El Dorado wildfire in California’s San Bernardino National Forest, which has killed one firefighter.
According to CalFire investigator Capt. Bennett Milloy, the fire sparked on September 5 when a family in nearby Yucaipa, California used a “smoke-generating device” to reveal the sex of their baby. The device ignited the dry grass around them and quickly became a full-fledged wildfire, in spite of the family’s attempts to put it out with water bottles.
In the following weeks, the wildfire ravaged 22,744 acres and damaged or destroyed 16 homes and other structures. The blaze forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and caused a road closure on Highway 38 when a large rock slide damaged the road. Additionally, the El Dorado fire caused more than a dozen injuries and killed 39-year-old Charlie Morton, a firefighter, as confirmed by the USDA Forest Service. Morton, who died on September 17, was a leader of the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew as well as a husband and father.
According to Milloy, the family is cooperating with authorities but could face charges for their role in the property damage as well as Morton’s death.
“Some of the laws they could have broken: a public resource code where you cause a fire on somebody else’s land, or, in California under a penal code, there’s provisions for what’s called recklessly causing a fire,” Milloy said a few days before the firefighter died. He added that it is up to the District Attorney to determine what charges the family will face.
William Weinberg, an attorney who has defended people who set wildfires in the past, stated that possible charges include manslaughter or homicide. Weinberg shared that the charges will depend on the family’s knowledge of the risk of their actions.
The El Dorado fire is not the first incidence of a gender reveal doing more harm than good. In 2017, a couple in Arizona ignited a 47,000 acre wildfire when they shot a firearm to reveal the sex of their baby. Another couple in Iowa accidentally created a pipe bomb that killed a 56 year old grandmother at a gender reveal in 2019.
Incidents like these have sparked widespread criticism of gender reveals, including by Jenna Karvunidis, the woman credited with inventing the gender reveal.
“Stop it. Stop having these stupid parties,” Karvunidis wrote on Facebook after news broke of the El Dorado fire.
Others argue that gender reveal parties are an important way to keep family and friends connected, especially during quarantine.
“[Gender reveals are] also probably about how isolating it feels to be pregnant during this time and not to be able to rely on family,” Jules Gill-Peterson, a professor at University of Pittsburgh, told the LA Times.