Officials Say Colored Smoke Grenade Sparked Massive California Wildfire

Officials in California have revealed that a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” (i.e. a colored smoke grenade or ‘smoke bomb’) was the cause of the El Dorado Fire that has already burned some 8,600 acres across San Bernadino County. The grenade was apparently part of a gender reveal party.

Officials didn’t reveal too many details. The CalFire News Release simply states that “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 fire began at 10:23 am on September 5, 2020 in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa,” reads the release. “CAL FIRE reminds the public that with 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.”

According to CNN, there is actually surveillance footage that shows the fire being started, but officials have refused to release it as the incident is “still under investigation.” The video apparently shows a “couple with several children” walking out into the dry grass as one of their friends lights a colored smoke bomb and another takes photos. Moments later, the scene devolves into panic.

“Soon after, the family can be seen on video scrambling and grabbing water bottles as the flames grow,” reports CNN. Everyone involved, including “the person who set off the device, the family and the person taking photos,” have been cooperating with investigators, but the person who actually set off the device may be personally charged with “igniting the land,” arson, and more.

“They tried to use water bottles, which in four-foot high grass, you’re never going to capture a grass fire with that,” CalFire investigator Capt. Bennet Milloy tells ABC7. “Potential laws that they may have broken are some public resource codes, which is igniting a land that’s not owned by you.”

Sadly, this is not the first gender reveal party to spark a wildfire. Back in 2017, a man named Dennis Dickey and his wife took an explosive target filled with blue powder up to the Santa Rita Mountain foothills, where they accidentally started a fire that would go on to burn through 47,000 acres and cause an estimated $8 million in damage.

So while these ostentatious, highly Instagrammable displays of powder and smoke might seem like a good idea… it’s worth a second thought before your colorful display turns into, as Dickey put it in 2017, “one of the worst days of my life.”

Image credits: Header photo by Austin Chan, CC0

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