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Firefighter dies battling California wildfire sparked by gender-reveal party

Prosecutors in San Bernardino County said Friday that they are meeting with fire authorities about the ongoing investigation into the El Dorado Fire.
Firefighters rush up Highway 38 as the El Dorado Fire burns in heavy timber north of Angelus Oaks, Calif., on Sept. 17, 2020.Will Lester / The Orange County Register via AP

A firefighter died battling the California wildfire that was sparked by pyrotechnics at a gender-reveal party and could lead to criminal charges, authorities said Friday.

The firefighter, whose name is being withheld, died Thursday while on the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County in Southern California, the San Bernardino National Forest said.

The firefighter was with the U.S. Forest Service, according to the California Department of Fire and Forest Protection, called Cal Fire.

"California owes so much to the firefighters that put their lives on the line to keep us safe," California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement about the lost firefighter.

"This death is a stark reminder of that heroism. Our hearts are with this firefighter’s family, loved ones, and fellow firefighters during this tragic time."

Prosecutors meanwhile said that they are meeting with fire authorities about the ongoing investigation into the blaze, which indicates the potential for criminal charges.

"Our office has been meeting with fire authorities regarding the #ElDoradoFire," the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office tweeted Friday.

"We will be sending a team to the #ElDoradoFire command post today to learn more about the progress of the investigation and the firefighter who gave his life."

As of now, over 18,500 firefighters are battling the more than two dozen deadly wildfires across California. More than 3.4 million acres in California have burned since the beginning of the year, and thousands of structures and homes have been destroyed. The total number of fatalities in California is 23 civilians and 3 firefighters.

The El Dorado Fire was sparked on Sept. 5 by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender-reveal party at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, about 72 miles east of Los Angeles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention said in a Sept. 6 statement.

The blaze has charred over 21,000 acres and was 66 percent contained midday Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time," the San Bernardino National Forest tweeted on Friday.

Wildfires continued to rage across the West on Friday, though officials in Washington state gave thanks for cooler temperatures and some rainfall which they hope will slow flames.

“It is great to see rain behind us," state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz told reporters in Amboy, Washington, not far from lines of the Big Hollow Fire. "Everyday I pray for rain all year long because we need more of it."

By midday on Friday, more than 24,000 acres had been burned in the Big Hollow Fire, which was just 15-percent contained, federal authorities said.

Several massive wildfires — the Holiday Farm, Beachie Creek, Archie Creek and Lionshead Fires — were still burning in Oregon with no end in sight on Friday.

Even in places where flames had seemingly come and gone, firefighters were still dousing grounds that were covered in leaves and pine needles.

"They create a combustible layer. The fire can run underneath that and threatened a house and that’s happened to us a number of times," Eugene Springfield Fire Battalion Chief Wayne Morris as his crews worked on hotspots left by the Holiday Farm Fire.

"And so it’s very important for our firefighters to get a good look around each one of the standing structures and clean it up and really wet it down to make sure it's cold."

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.