‘Gender reveal party’ triggers 47,000-acre wildfire causing $8m of damage

It was intended to be a creative way to announce a new baby’s sex to friends and family.

Instead a new father’s use of colourful explosives went horribly wrong, leading to a wildfire that burned through 47,000 acres and caused more than $8 million worth of damage.

Footage released by the US Forest Service on Tuesday shows how the gimmick led to a costly wildfire in southern Arizona in April 2017 that forced about 200 people from their homes.

The "gender reveal" party was thrown by Dennis Dickey, an off-duty border patrol agent, who fired a rifle at a homemade target placed in the middle of dry grassland near Green Valley, Arizona. 

Gender reveal parties are intended to announce a baby’s sex to loved ones.

The damage and firefighting costs topped $8 million

In the video, a rectangular target with a diamond checkered design marked with "boy" or "girl" can be seen seconds before a gunshot is fired and the target explodes into a cloud of blue.

Immediately afterwards the surrounding grassland is covered in flames and a panicked male voice shouts "Start packing up!"

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It is the first visual evidence of how the tall, dry grass on state land near Green Valley went up in flames and became the Sawmill Fire. 

Firefighters from at least 20 agencies fought the blaze for about a week to bring it under control.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the gender reveal was for Dickey’s pregnant wife.

"I feel absolutely horrible about it," Dickey told the newspaper. "It was probably one of the worst days of my life."

The border patrol agent pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanour charge of starting a fire without a permit.

The 2017 fire near Green Valley burned 73 square miles 

He was sentenced the following month to five years of probation. He also was ordered to make an initial payment of $100,000 in restitution and monthly payments of $500.

Exploding targets are prohibited on the Coronado National Forest, and recreational target shooting is not allowed on the state-owned land where the fire started, officials said.

Dickey told authorities he constructed the target with an explosive substance known as Tannerite. He reported the fire immediately to emergency services on April 23, 2017.

The fire burned about 73 square miles of mostly state land over less than two weeks, forcing evacuations and causing more than $8 million worth of damage and firefighting costs.

Land management agencies have seen wildfires spark from lightning, abandoned campfires and even a horse clipping its shoe on a rock – but fires starting from gender reveal parties are rare.

Fire officials said gusty winds and the broken topography helped push the growth of the southern Arizona fire.

"We pass that message on all the time – one spark is all it takes, one spark is all it takes," said Tiffany Davila, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. 

"It’s true. When you see that video, you see how quickly the grasses catch on fire and how quickly it moves."

The US Customs and Border Protection agency confirmed on Tuesday that Dickey still is employed with the its Tucson office.

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