A pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party sparked a fire that roared through thousands of acres while hundreds of residents near another blaze were airlifted to safety as wildfires continued to tear through wide swaths of California on Monday.
Record-breaking heat added fuel to the flames and put a strain on the electrical grid, although fears of widespread outages had not materialized. Still about 50,000 homes and businesses were dark Monday morning.
The El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa began burning Saturday, and authorities said the culprit was a device sometimes used to release blue or pink smoke to announce the gender of an expected baby. The fire, 70 miles east of Los Angeles, had burned more than 7,000 acres and was 5% contained.
Temperatures in the fire zone were in the 90s while downtown Los Angeles reached 111 degrees. A record-shattering high of 121 degrees was recorded in the nearby Woodland Hills neighborhood of the San Fernando Valley.
“CAL FIRE reminds the public that with the dry conditions and critical fire weather, it doesn’t take much to start a wildfire,” the press release stated. “Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially responsible and criminally responsible.”
In Northern California, helicopters pulled more than 200 people to safety early Sunday as flames raced nearby from the Creek Fire that has burned since Thursday. The blaze surrounded Mammoth Pool Campground and destroyed as least half the homes in the town of Big Creek. More than 70,000 acres has burned, and the fire was listed as “0%” contained.
“The lake is totally engulfed with smoke. You can’t hardly see in front of you,” area resident Jack Machado said. “The sky’s turning red. It looks like Mars out there.”
National Guard leader Gen. Daniel Hokanson tweeted a photo of dozens of people crammed onto a helicopter.
“Simply extraordinary, lifesaving work by the @CalGuard airlifting more than 200 people to safety overnight from the imminent danger of the #CreekFire,” Hokanson tweeted. “The National Guard stands Always Ready, Always There to support our communities and nation in times of need.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide emergency because of the widespread fires and extreme weather conditions, and secured a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to bolster the state’s emergency response. He also issued an emergency proclamation for the counties of Fresno, Madera and Mariposa, which are fighting the Creek Fire; for San Bernardino County, which is battling the El Dorado Fire; and for San Diego County because of the Valley Fire.
The fires have burned tens of thousands of acres, destroyed homes and caused the evacuation of thousands of residents.
Newsom also urged state residents to keep their thermostats at 78 degrees or higher, to use appliances sparingly and keep lights off whenever possible.
“Power outages were avoided … due in large part to individual conservation efforts,” Newsom said. “Even more conservation efforts are needed.”
Contributing: Joshua Yeager, Visalia Times-Delta; Nicole Hayden, Palm Springs Desert Sun; The Associated Press