National parks advocates are fed up with destructive gender reveal parties, they say

A couple accused of starting a deadly wildfire in California during a gender reveal photo shoot pleaded guilty to the charges they faced — which highlighted a bigger conversation about holding people accountable for the damage the events can have in protected natural areas.

The couple was accused of setting off “smoke bombs” during a photo shoot they staged for their baby’s gender reveal on Sept. 5, 2020, at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Associated Press reported.

The smoke bombs ignited dry grass, and strong winds stoked the flames on the U.S. Forest Service land about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, the outlet reported.

The blaze grew into the El Dorado Fire, which forced hundreds of residents to evacuate, destroyed five homes and 15 buildings, injured 13 people and killed a firefighter, the outlet reported.

The husband faced felony charges of involuntary manslaughter for the death of firefighter Charlie Morton and recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure, and the wife faced misdemeanor charges of recklessly causing fire to property of another, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release. They pleaded guilty to the charges on Friday, Feb. 9.

The husband was sentenced to a year in county jail, 200 hours of community service and two years of felony probation, officials said. The wife was sentenced to one year of probation and 400 hours of community service.

The couple was ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution to the victims, officials said.

Wildlife advocates have been calling for heftier fines — and heavier consequences for damaging protected natural resources — for months now. And not only in this case.

Beth Pratt, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation California, previously told McClatchy News on the phone that events like gender reveal parties can damage the ecosystem even when they don’t cause deadly wildfires.

“Certainly glitter or other microplastics hugely impact wildlife,” she told McClatchy News. “Those can take hundreds of years to break down, if at all.”

She said the same thing about those who drive across a fragile meadow or leave graffiti on a rock in a sensitive habitat.

She shared her frustration about the issue in a Jan. 29 post on X, formerly known as Twitter, along with a photo of the remnants of a gender reveal party in Yosemite National Park.

“I just can’t. We need to start issuing heavy fines if entitled people are going to keep causing resource damage in our national parks,” she said. “And maybe people need to start taking a test before (they) can visit to show they understand these areas are protected places and home to wildlife.”

She’s seen the issue ramp up in the last five or six years, she told McClatchy News. She believes heavier fines coupled with education could help.

“It’s a fine line because sometimes they may just not know. … I think most people love wildlife, most people don’t want to harm wildlife,” she said. “But on the other hand, people need to be held accountable. (The parks) are not Disneyland, they are natural places that are protected. I ask that people really think about the impact they can have when they’re in some of the few protected places on the planet where wildlife is supposed to be relatively free from human impacts.”

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