El Dorado blaze sparked during gender reveal party at park, fire officials say

The El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa that has burned 7,050 acres in Southern California was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party Saturday morning, according to a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection press release. The devices are sometimes used to release blue or pink smoke to announce the gender of an expected baby.  

The blaze, which started Saturday about 10:20 a.m. at the El Dorado Ranch Park, is 5% contained. 

“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.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a state of emergency in five counties, including San Bernardino County due to the El Dorado Fire which continues to be “extremely active” due to dry vegetation, steep terrain and sweltering hot weather across the region.  

In addition to the El Dorado Fire, Newsom also issued the proclamation for the counties of Fresno, Madera and Mariposa due to the Creek Fire, and for San Diego County due to the Valley Fire. The fires have destroyed homes, prompted evacuations and continue to burn thousands of acres.

Additionally, Newsom declared a statewide emergency due to widespread extreme weather and fire conditions across California. This allowed Newsom to bolster that state’s emergency response and secure federal funds to support the state’s response to a variety of fires in Northern California as well.

Fast-moving fire

The El Dorado Fire had burned up the south side Yucaipa Ridge above the communities of Oak Glen and the North Bench area of Yucaipa, fire officials said Sunday. After cresting Yucaipa Ridge, the blaze was threatening the communities of Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls.

No injuries have been reported. An outbuilding was destroyed on Saturday, but no other damage was reported as of Sunday afternoon even though about 30 homes were threatened by the fire.

Evacuation orders have been issued for the communities of Oak Glen, Forest Falls and Mountain Home Village. A portion of North Bench Yucaipa also was evacuated. Red Cross set up a temporary evacuation facility at the Yucaipa Community Center, located at 34-900 Oak Glen Road.

Fire officials reminded those traveling over the holiday weekend of the following road closures:

  • Highway 38: Northbound Highway 38 is closed at Bryant Avenue and southbound Highway 38 is closed at the town of Angelus Oaks. 
  • Oak Glen Road is closed at Pine Bench Rd on the east and Cherry Croft/Jefferson on the west.

Outdoor recreation areas closed, including: Vivian Creek, Momyer, San Bernardino Peak, Falls picnic area and Thurman Flats picnic area. The Mill Creek drainage and off-trail areas of the San Gorgonio Wilderness south of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail also were closed.

Officials asked that residents heed evacuation warnings and travelers stay clear of the fire area.

“We need to keep the firefighters we do have focused on firefighting and not on managing people,” fire officials said in a joint release Sunday.

Oak Tree Mountain, a year-round recreation area, shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and again on Aug. 1 because of the Apple Fire. It reopened for three hours Saturday before once again closing, this time due to the El Dorado Fire, owner Precious Dykstra said on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020.

Oak Tree Mountain, a year-round recreation area, shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and again on Aug. 1 because of the Apple Fire. It reopened for three hours Saturday before once again closing, this time due to the El Dorado Fire, owner Precious Dykstra said.

Firefighters assured her they had a handle on things, but Dykstra remained worried Sunday as she watched the fire burn nearby. She wasn’t as concerned about her business, though, as much as she was about her community losing its ambiance to the fire.

“It’s here. It’s burning the hill,” she said. “I feel okay, but Oak Glen is not okay.”

Fire crews focused on structure protection, using retardant and water drops to build line around the fire, the Forest Service said.

A line of retardant separates the flames from Dan Mracek’s home at the bottom of a mountainside. He stayed up all night watching the fire and it was “very nerve-wracking,” but he was confident by Sunday morning that his home was safe.

Nonetheless, he evacuated his home in order to stay out of the way of firefighters who remained active nearby. And like Dykstra, he was mostly concerned about the fire’s impact on the community as a whole.

“You’re not going to see that pretty mountain any more,” he said. “It’s sad to see it go.”

The El Dorado Fire is burning just two miles from where the Apple Fire ravaged 33,000 acres last month, and fire officials said it would work to their advantage if the El Dorado Fire entered the burn scar.

The Apple Fire, which had been 95% contained for weeks, was ignited July 31 by a diesel-fueled vehicle “emitting burning carbon from the exhaust system,” investigators said. 

Area temperatures are expected to surpass 110 degrees near Yucaipa as Southern California is engulfed in a heatwave. 

On Saturday, temperatures peaked at 122 degrees in Palm Springs and similar conditions are expected Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

The El Dorado Fire burns in the San Bernardino National Forest near Cherry Valley, Calif., on Sunday, September 6, 2020.

Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi covers crime, public safety and road and highway safety. He can be reached at [email protected] or follow him at @tdscolinatagi. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.

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