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California fire sparked by device to reveal baby’s gender

The fire started Saturday morning 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.

Wildfires have burned more than 2 million acres in California this year, setting a state record even as crews battled dozens of growing blazes on Monday in sweltering temperatures.

Smoke from wildfires burning east of Los Angeles dims the sunrise on seen from Pasadena, California.

Smoke from wildfires burning east of Los Angeles dims the sunrise on seen from Pasadena, California. Credit:AP

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 1.2 metre grasses, 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 fire department.

“You can’t fight a fire like this with a water bottle,” 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, Milloy said.

“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 criminally charged with misdemeanour or felony counts.

In 2017, a massive Arizona wildfire was accidentally started by an off-duty Border Patrol agent who shot a target filled with an explosive blue powder. The fire burned 47,000 acres (117 square kilometres) and caused $US8 million ($10.9 million) in damages, Agent Dennis Dickey was charged with a misdemeanour and sentenced to probation.

Last year, a homemade explosive used to reveal a baby’s gender killed 56-year-old Pamela Kreimeyer in Knoxville, Iowa. The device was meant to spray powder but instead blew up like a pipe bomb.

Kreimeyer, who was standing 13 metres away, died instantly when debris struck her head.

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 used Saturday will be tested to determine what it contained. Milloy didn’t know the colour it emitted.

AP

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