'Just stop': Gender reveal party causes 10,000 acre wildfire in California

Publish Date
Tue, 8 Sep 2020, 8:32PM
A burned structure is seen at a wildfire in Yucaipa, California, after a couple's plan to reveal their baby's gender at a party. (Photo / AP)
A burned structure is seen at a wildfire in Yucaipa, California, after a couple's plan to reveal their baby's gender at a party. (Photo / AP)

'Just stop': Gender reveal party causes 10,000 acre wildfire in California

Publish Date
Tue, 8 Sep 2020, 8:32PM

A fire sparked by a pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party has grown to nearly 10,000 acres since Saturday.

The El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County has scorched 9,671 acres and was only 7% contained as of late Monday night, according to fire officials, who say it's "one of the most dangerous fires" they've seen in the area.

Cal Fire investigators determined that the fire was caused by a "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device" used at a party on Saturday morning in El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, California.

Evacuations have been ordered in the area as homes have been threatened.

"In my 30 years as a citizen in Yucaipa, I have never seen such a large fire," Yucaipa Mayor David Avila said during a Monday press conference. "As a retired firefighter with 32 years of experience, I can assure you I witnessed one of the most dangerous fires that we can have in this area."

No injuries have been reported and no structures have been damaged in the blaze, Cal Fire PIO Cathey Mattingly confirmed to CNN.

Firefighters were able to make good progress on the fire Monday as there was no major wind event, according to a press release from the San Bernardino National Forest.

"The hard work of crews on the ground, dozers and aircraft have enabled a lot of great work to be accomplished as fire lines continue to be constructed around the fire in preparation for the upcoming Red Flag Santa Ana Wind event starting at noon tomorrow and lasting through Wednesday," they added.

Surveillance video reviewed by investigators showed a couple with several children walking into the grass while another person appears to light a device, CalFire investigator Capt. Bennet Milloy told CNN Monday. After it ignites, the family is seen scrambling and grabbing water bottles to try and douse the growing fire. Everyone involved has cooperated with investigators, Milloy said.

Fire officials have refused to release the video to CNN, citing that it is an ongoing investigation.

Currently, fire investigators have identified at least three laws that have been violated, including "igniting the land" and arson. The level of recklessness will determine whether those are filed as misdemeanors or felonies. Based on that, penalties could vary.

If the district attorney pursues the case, the person who ignited the pyrotechnic would be the person charged, Milloy explained.

"It really is a tragedy, it's sad. They were hoping to remember the day in a different way," Milloy said, adding that over 80% of fires are caused by humans and that people need to be more aware of their surroundings. "You need to be extra cautious because you could be liable."

How these parties became deadly

The woman best known for popularising gender reveal parties has a message for the world: Please stop.

Blogger Jenna Karvunidis -- who is largely credited for creating the gender reveal party -- took to Facebook to condemn the over-the-top events.

"Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid's penis. No one cares but you," she wrote.

Karvunidis had her own gender reveal party back in 2008, before they became a Thing. She and her husband went what is now the more traditional route, though: cutting a cake that revealed an inside of pink frosting. A girl.

"I just thought it would be really fun for everybody in the whole family to find out," Karvunidis told NPR last year.

She wrote about it on her blog, High Gloss And Sauce, and at the time it garnered some local attention.

But since 2008, these celebrations of life have turned into risky endeavors. Though many still opt for the classic blue or pink cake reveal, others have taken more extreme routes.

The current wildfire in California is massive, but it's just small potatoes compared to a 2017 reveal in Arizona that led to a wildfire spanning 47,000 acres. It all happened when members at the party shot a makeshift target scrawled with the words "Boy" and "Girl."

When the target -- packed with the highly explosive Tannerite -- exploded, a blue cloud poofed upward and immediately ignited the surrounding brush.

It was a boy, and the party ended up costing the guilty patrons more than $8 million in restitution.

Just this April, a gender reveal party in Florida also led to a 10-acre brush fire, after similarly using "Tannerite and a weapon" in the reveal, according to fire officials at the time.

If the damage done by huge wildfires isn't enough, such gender reveal parties have also led to property damage (like the plane crash last year in Texas, or the car that burst into flames in Australia).

And, ironically, this celebration of life has also led to at least one death.

Last October, in Iowa, an idea for a fun gender reveal party went south when the family unintentionally built a pipe bomb. When the device went off, it wasn't just blue or pink gun powder that exploded, but the entire pipe did as well, sending shrapnel flying.

A piece of metal hit a grandmother, who was standing about 45 feet away, and killed her.

Parties uphold gender norms, critics say

Danger aside, there's also overwhelming criticism of the parties as a system that upholds the gender binary -- that is, it's either a boy, or a girl.

Karvunidis herself has hinted at this criticism as well.

In 2019, she wrote that "assigning focus on gender at birth leaves out so much of their potential and talents that have nothing to do with what's between their legs."

Studies have backed up this same notion.

One such study, published in 2017 by Carly Gieseler in the Journal of Gender Studies, characterized the harms of the gender reveal party like this: "It allows adults to recuperate what they have learned from their own gendered constructions, reinscribing expectations and assumptions onto the unwritten body of the unborn and propelling these ideals into the digital, social, public world."

As for Karvunidis's daughter, the focus of that pinnacle pink cake in 2008, she's "a girl who wears suits!" Karvunidis wrote -- meaning to highlight the futility of celebrating these gender norms.