A couple’s plan to reveal their baby’s gender went up not in blue or pink smoke but in flames when the device they used sparked a wildfire that burned thousands of acres and forced people to flee from a city east of Los Angeles.
The fire prompted evacuations in parts of Yucaipa, a city of 54,000 people, and the surrounding area.
Water-dropping helicopters were brought in but the fire grew to 11.5 square miles by Monday and more than 500 firefighters on the scene only had minimal containment.
It was the latest in what has become a lengthy list of tragedies at events where typically smoke, confetti, balloons or other coloured objects are used to reveal the soon-to-be-born child’s gender — pink for girls and blue for boys.
The fire started Saturday at El Ranch Dorado Park, a rugged natural area popular with hikers and dog owners.
In summer the park’s tall natural grasses dry out and turn golden, and when combined with the San Bernardino Mountains in the distance, provide a popular backdrop for family photos and videos.
The unidentified couple chose the location to reveal their baby’s gender. They were accompanied by their young children and had a friend or relative videoing on a phone, said Captain Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The family went into a field and fired off the device, which quickly ignited 4ft grasses, Mr Milloy said. Conditions were perfect for a fire to spread quickly — triple-digit temperatures, low humidity, dry vegetation and a stiff breeze.
Surveillance video showed the couple frantically race to their vehicle to retrieve water bottles to try to extinguish the flames. It was futile and they called the emergency services.
“You can’t fight a fire like this with a water bottle,” Mr Milloy said. “They had no chance after it started.”
Firefighters arrived within minutes and the distraught couple told them what happened and provided their own photos and video to aid the investigation.
“It’s a pretty tragic situation,” he said. “Obviously this was supposed to be a happy event.”
The couple could be liable for the cost of fighting the fire and face prosecution.
Mr Milloy said some devices used to reveal genders are harmless but others contain chemicals that produce heat and can spark fires.
He said the device will be tested to determine what it contained and he did not know the colour it emitted. – AP