The El Dorado fire started on Labor Day weekend 2020.
“The weather was the perfect combination for a wild-land fire, we had high, high temperatures, single digit humidity and so all it really could take and all it did take was a spark,” says Zach Behrens, the public information officer for the San Bernardino National Forest.
Fire officials say, that spark came from a pyrotechnic device set off during a gender reveal photo shoot at El Dorado Park in Yucaipa. Within hours that fire raced out of control burning thousands of acres and forcing thousands from their homes. It would come to destroy nearly 23,000 acres, home and many lives.
“Five residences lost, about four of them were additionally damaged, and about 15 other types of structures … we had 13 injuries and really heartbreaking is that we did lose one firefighter,” says Behrens.
That firefighter was Charles Morton, a veteran of the fire service and a crew boss of the elite Big Bear Hot Shots. Early reports say he was killed in a burn over.
“Very tough, you know anytime we lose someone, that’s been near and dear to us it’s really tough for the family as a whole, we’re thankful for all the support,” says Behrens.
Many been frustrated feeling as though Morton has been forgotten and with it the case and wonder if those responsible will be held accountable? San Bernardino County District Attorney, Jason Anderson says that could not be further from the truth and his office had representatives on scene a week into the fire and have continued to work the case.
“I understand the frustration that folks have that it seems like this is a horrible thing we should be reacting right away there are a lot of agencies that are involved in this particular situation,” says Anderson.
He says office was ready to make the determination on whether or not the people responsible for sparking the fire should face charges. They had the fire report from Cal Fire, the death investigation report from the San Bernardino Sheriff / Coroner but then were made aware of a third report from the U.S. Forest Service.
“So to be fair we aren’t going to make determinations until we have all the reports so that if we make a filing decision all those reports would be turned over at that point would be turned over to the defense which is the right thing to do,” says Anderson.
He says he will not release any of the names of those who could face charges because they don’t pose a threat and would not say what the potential charges might be, additionally he said he would not release the video of the gender reveal that started the fire.
“It could potentially prejudice any potential defendants or defendants it would also could potentially prejudice any jurors who may have to hear this case and because we’re still making a determination and haven’t gotten all the completed reports it wouldn’t be appropriate,” says Anderson.
And while this case is controversial, he says his office is only interested in the facts, “I’m sure there’ll always be opinions about gender reveal and effects it’s had perhaps in this case or other cases but that’s for others to decide we’re not interested in sending a message or a precedent we’re just interested in getting it right.”
We asked Behrens about this development, he referred us to the U.S. Forest Service in Washington D.C. for comment. They did not return our request for comment.
Behrens says this time has been challenging and Morton will always be in their hearts.