LOS ANGELES • Fireworks at a "gender reveal" party triggered a wildfire in southern California that has destroyed 2,800ha and forced many residents to flee their homes, the fire department has said.
More than 500 firefighters and four helicopters were battling the El Dorado blaze east of San Bernardino, which started on Saturday morning, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said on Sunday. Residents of several communities have been ordered to evacuate.
The fire department "has determined the El Dorado Fire, burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County, was caused by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party", Cal Fire said on Twitter.
"Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible," it warned.
Gender reveal parties are held during pregnancy to unveil the sex of the expected child, sometimes announced by pink or blue smoke fireworks.
California has been baking under scorching conditions with temperatures reaching a record 49 deg C on Sunday in Woodland Hills, an all-time high for Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said.
With the hot and dry conditions, California has suffered a particularly busy fire season this year, with more than 647,500ha destroyed so far, including in three of the biggest blazes in the state's history.
In northern California, more than 200 people were airlifted to safety over the weekend after a fast-moving wildfire trapped them near the Mammoth Pool Reservoir north-east of Fresno.
They were rescued by military helicopters, with dozens packed into a Chinook, a photograph posted by the California National Guard showed.
The Creek Fire, which started on Friday in steep and rugged terrain, has so far spread to 29,500ha, according to the US Forest Service, making it one of the largest. More than 800 firefighters were battling the blaze.
Another rapidly spreading fire near San Diego, the Valley Fire, has so far spread to 4,000ha and destroyed 11 structures, Cal Fire said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sunday declared a state of emergency for five counties affected by the Creek, El Dorado and Valley fires.
"The fires have burned tens of thousands of acres, destroyed homes and caused the evacuation of thousands of residents," the governor's office said.
Record temperatures over the three-day Labour Day weekend have aggravated already dangerous fire conditions and further stressed exhausted California firefighters.