The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A gender-reveal stunt sparked a California wildfire that has forced 21,000 people to evacuate

Thousands of people were evacuated from areas near the El Dorado Fire, which was sparked on Sept. 7 by a pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party. (Video: Kimberly Clarke via Storyful)

A couple expecting a baby set out Saturday morning to share the news of the child’s sex by setting off a smoke bomb that would send plumes of pink or blue smoke rising into the arid Southern California air.

As the pyrotechnic device ignited, so did the dry wild grasses that had grown as tall as four feet in the meadow at El Dorado Ranch Park, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire said in a statement Sunday.

As of Monday night, the barely contained fire had grown into a monster that has already burned through nearly 10,000 acres and forced more than 20,000 people to evacuate.

The misguided “gender-reveal” stunt is not the first to spark a costly conflagration. A similar antic in 2017 started a 47,000-acre wildfire in the foothills of southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains. Last year, another gender-reveal gimmick set off a brush fire in Florida. Gender-reveal parties have caused a plane crash and last year one killed a grandmother when she was struck with shrapnel after a family unintentionally created a pipe bomb while attempting a colorful explosion to announce the sex of their unborn child.

A Border Patrol agent threw a gender-reveal party. He ended up starting a 47,000-acre wildfire.

After years of accidents stemming from gender-reveal parties, the woman who is widely credited with starting the trend has a new message for excited parents-to-be: “Stop it.”

“Stop having these stupid parties,” blogger Jenna Myers Karvunidis said in a Facebook post on Monday after learning about the El Dorado Fire. “For the love of God, stop burning things down.”

Karvunidis popularized the gender-reveal party when she threw one to announce her oldest daughter’s sex in 2008. She and her husband cut into a cake filled with pink frosting, and she wrote about the family event on her blog High Gloss and Sauce. But the increasingly dramatic, and often dangerous, events that her party spawned have left Karvunidis begging people to leave the trend in the past.

“It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday and this tool thought it would be smart to light a fire” to announce his unborn child’s sex, she wrote. “Toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something because simply enjoying a baby party is for sissies.”

Karvunidis, who said on Facebook that her family is now under a fire evacuation watch, has been rethinking the gender-reveal tradition she started for a while now. She told NPR last year that the fun celebration had turned into a “bit of a nightmare.”

Her thinking also changed because of her daughters’ diverse range of gender expression. Her oldest daughter wears suits, she said, but another daughter cried when Santa Claus brought her Legos on Christmas because she thought it was a “boy” toy.

“Now I think the whole thing is not great at all,” she told the Guardian. “The problem is they overemphasize one aspect of a person.”

In the June interview, Karvunidis said she regretted inspiring the parties, especially the ones that caused property damage or even injured people.

“When I first saw that a gender-reveal party had caused a forest fire I cried because I felt responsible,” she told the publication months before the El Dorado Fire.

The family that sparked Saturday’s fire tried to quell the flames using water bottles, officials said, but the blaze spread quickly through the sun-baked vegetation. They called 911 and officials said the family is cooperating with investigators. The wildfire raced toward the Yucaipa Ridge and threatened to burn through a nearby residential neighborhood. Local officials evacuated thousands of people who live in homes that could be razed as the inferno rips through the California countryside during one of the hottest summers ever recorded.

The El Dorado Fire is just one of more than a dozen scorching the landscape and spewing smoke into the air along the West Coast. Several fires are raging in California, and a blaze in Washington state burned most of a small town called Malden to the ground on Monday. Another fire sparked in Oregon on Monday has filled Portland with smoke.

For some residents who live near the El Dorado blaze, it is hard to believe that anyone would set off a smoke bomb at the peak of summer, when the Southern California flora is particularly flammable and fires are already blazing across the state.

“It’s a meadow of dry, brown, dead grass,” Oak Glen resident Patrick Patterson told KABC. “Why would you go out there and think that you can light off any kind of firework?”

About 21,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate to avoid the El Dorado Fire, and many more have been told to prepare to evacuate in case the fire moves closer to their homes. The fire had burned 9,671 acres and was 7 percent contained as of Monday evening, officials said.