The family who set off a firework during a gender-reveal gathering that sparked a huge blaze in southern California could face charges and multi-millon dollar fines, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) has said.
Cal Fire confirmed in a statement on Sunday evening that the El Dorado blaze in Yucaipa — which officials say has torn through some 8,600 acres of land and was only 7 per cent contained on Monday — was started by a smoke generating "pyrotechnic device", used during “a gender-reveal party”.
Gender-reveal parties are gatherings where parents expecting a baby hold an event to reveal its sex to family and close friends. At some parties, parents use exploding coloured pyrotechnics to celebrate — blue for a boy and pink for a girl.
In its Sunday statement, Cal Fire said that those "responsibile for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminially responsible".
Bennet Milloy, a spokesman for Cal Fire, has since doubled down on the warning, telling Mail Online that the family could face a fine aimed at helping to cover the cost of putting the fire out, which could run into millions of dollars.
"They understood the seriousness of the fire," Mr Milloy told the publication, when asked if they family realised the gravity of the situation. "They genuinely believed it was an accident."
Mr Milloy told Mail Online that the family could be hit with violations of public resources and arson under California's penal code section 452. The statute makes it a crime for a person to recklessly set fire to or burn any structure, forest land, or property.
It is not immediately clear if the district attorney for the area plans to pursue the case. If legal proceedings are issued, then it would be the person who lit the firework who would be charged, Milloy told CNN.
The fire began on Saturday morning at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 76 miles (115km) east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire said. It has since spread north to Yucaipa Ridge, prompting local officials to issue evacuation orders in the surrounding areas of Oak Glen, Mountain Home Village, and Forest Falls.
San Bernardino National Forest CCTV footage reportedly showed a couple and several children walking into the grass at the edge of El Dorado Ranch Park at around 10.20am on Saturday morning. One person can be seen appearing to ignite the firework that started the fire. Shortly afterwards, the group could be seen attempting to bring the blaze under control with water.
California is currently in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave. This, along with the dry summer months, has created tinderbox conditions for fires to start in forests and woodland. The El Dorado blaze is just one of a number of fires tearing through the state.
The Creek Fire, which has engulfed the Fresno area in central California and caused the emergency evacuation over the weekend of more than 200 people vacationing at a popular reservoir, was still not contained as of Monday afternoon, fire officials said.
The blaze, growing under "extreme weather conditions", devoured nearly 79,000 acres of land, while a cause remained under investigation, Cal Fire said in a statement.
Officials in Madera County issued evacuation orders and urged the county's 157,000 residents to leave if they felt unsafe.
The Oak Fire in Mendocino County started burning around 1:26 pm on Monday afternoon, according to Cal Fire, and three hours later it had already torched 1,000 acres and destroyed one structure.
Videos on social media showed the fire consuming pick-up trucks as it spread along Highway 101 near Willits, California.
"If you're trying to get out of an evacuation area please call 911 for help. Don't delay!" the Mendocino Sheriff's Office wrote on Twitter.
San Francisco-based power provider PG&E said late on Monday that it began turning off power in "high fire-threat" areas. The outages will impact 172,000 customers in 22 counties, mostly in the Sierra Foothills, PG&E said, adding the shut-off was a safety measure due to the extremely high and dry winds.
The California Independent Systems Operator, which runs most of the state's power grid, again urged consumers to cut back on energy consumption and said it was monitoring wildfires throughout the state threatening power lines.
In Southern California, east of San Diego, more than 400 firefighters battled the Valley Fire, which burned more than 17,000 acres (6,900 hectares)in Cleveland National Forest. Video shared on social media showed firefighters dousing the flames, the air thick with ash and fire embers.
The blaze was 3 per cent contained as of Monday evening. Officials announced the deployment of military aircraft on Monday afternoon to help fight the flames.
A fire in San Bernardino County, southeast of Los Angeles, that officials said was caused by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party, kept burning through the night and was 7 per cent contained as of Monday morning.
On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, San Bernardino and San Diego counties due to the wildfires, which also prompted the U.S. Forest Service to temporarily close some national forests including the Sierra National Forest, the Angeles National Forest and the San Bernardino National Forest.
Additional reporting by Reuters