Firefighter Dies in California Wildfire Sparked by Gender-Reveal Party

A firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., as the El Dorado Fire continues to burn Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, 2020. The fire started by a device at a gender reveal party on Saturday. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

(CN) — A firefighter who went missing while fighting a Southern California wildfire sparked by a gender-reveal party device was found dead Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service reported. 

The cause of death is being investigated and the man’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. 

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time,” the Forest Service said in a statement Friday morning.

Tearing through brush some 70 miles east of Los Angeles, the El Dorado Fire was sparked Sept. 5 when a gender-reveal party device started a fire in the chaparral and grassland native to the area. 

The fire — one of 29 major wildfires currently burning in the state — has scorched about 21,000 acres is currently 66% contained.

Wildfires have blackened more than 3.4 million acres across the Golden State so far this summer.

A blaze near Palm Springs grew to 2,500 acres overnight, threatening the small unincorporated community of Snow Creek. Residents have been forced to flee as steady winds drove the grass fire toward their homes. 

“The fire is now creeping down and is threatening several of the homes in the Snow Creek area,” Capt. Fernando Herrera of Cal Fire said Thursday.

Firefighters responding to the fire said they saw a vehicle engulfed in flames which spread to the surrounding vegetation. 

The fire comes as the federal and state firefighting agencies continue to try and get a handle on several other blazes raging throughout the state. 

The Bobcat Fire prompted new evacuation orders for communities east of Los Angeles, with people living in the national forest east of Highway 39 being ordered to flee Friday. The blaze has blackened 60,000 acres, doubling in size in the last week. 

Residents of Juniper Hills, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Paradise Springs were evacuated Thursday. 

Unlike fires in the north, which are benefitting from some cooler temperatures and increased humidity, the Bobcat Fire continues to be fed by steady dry winds, with gusts nearing 30 mph along ridgelines. 

North in Mendocino County, the August Complex, which has scorched more than 800,000 acres to become the largest fire in recorded state history, is at 30% containment as firefighters rely on cooler temperatures and higher humidity to help control the spread. 

“Priorities remain on structure defense, indirect line construction (away from the fire’s edge), direct line construction and tactical firing operations,” the Forest Service said during its morning update. 

The North Complex, which has killed 15 people so far, continues to burn near what’s left of the town of Paradise, the scene of the deadliest wildland fire in state history in 2018. 

The ferocity of the North Complex has abated somewhat in the past few days as temperatures have fallen and the wind speeds have settled. It is 41% contained. 

Likewise, firefighters battling the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties are welcoming favorable weather patterns to the area. 

“On Friday, the Creek Fire’s South Zone should experience less fire activity this morning than during the previous operations periods,” the Forest Service said. “An overnight weather system brought high-level tropical moisture to the fire, increasing cloud cover and humidity and very light showers were experienced in the fire area.”

However, the forecast calls for overnight winds that could complicate containment efforts. 

Currently, the Creek Fire is 20% contained with most of the fire activity centered near the China Peak ski resort. 

On Friday, Yosemite National Park announced it would close for the weekend due to the voluminous smoke billowing into the park boundaries. At 2 p.m. Friday, air quality monitoring stations in the park recorded an AQI of 288, “very unhealthy,” just 12 points away from “hazardous.”

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