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Couple Charged After Gender Reveal Starts Wildfire


The sky in Denver was hazy from wildfires on Tuesday as children cooled down in a fountain. Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

A summer of misery stretched across much of the United States this week, with flash floods in the Southeast, deadly monsoons in the desert, a crackling-dry fire season across the Pacific Northwest and hazy skies on the East Coast blotting out a baleful red sun.

Parts of Montana reached 110 degrees this week — more than 20 degrees above normal — while the nation’s largest wildfire continued to explode in southern Oregon, generating its own weather and prompting state officials to warn residents that they face a long and difficult fire season.

“No corner of our state is immune,” Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon told reporters at an emergency briefing on Tuesday, adding that climate change means dangerously large wildfires “are arriving earlier, coming on faster and lasting for longer.”

The Bootleg Fire, which has burned nearly 400,000 acres across southern Oregon since July 6 and is 32 percent contained, is already the fourth-largest wildfire in the state since 1900. And it started almost two months before the traditional peak of fire season in late August, said Doug Grafe, the chief of fire protection with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

He blamed a deepening drought and triple-digit temperatures from a late June heat wave, which killed hundreds of people across the Pacific Northwest, for accelerating fire season. He said forests were already as dry in early July as they usually are in late August.

“This is not going to return to normal any time soon,” Chief Grafe said.

Conditions have been so severe that all land managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources east of the Cascades will temporarily close to the public starting Friday.

Smoke from the Bootleg Fire, as well as other blazes burning across the Western United States and Canada, cast an acrid plume into the upper atmosphere that spread across the continent, adding to the humid haze in New York and other East Coast cities on Tuesday. “Why is the sun red?” was a trending question on search engines.

Elsewhere, severe flooding in central China killed at least 12 people trapped inside a subway in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, according to state media reports. The flooding inundated much of the city and surrounding region, creating scenes of destruction that suggested the death toll could be much higher. Flooding is routine in China, but it appears to have become more severe, which researchers have attributed to climate change.

Climate change has played a prominent role in many of the extreme weather conditions. While low rainfall and high heat in the West have made wildfires burn earlier and more fiercely, the warmer atmosphere in other parts of the country holds more moisture, which can intensify downpours and flooding. A man died in Minnesota after heavy rain and strong winds blew through, capsizing his canoe.

In parts the Southeastern U.S., including the Gulf Coast states, a rash of heavy rain showers and thunderstorms will create “a more widespread threat in the coming days” of flash flooding across much of the region, according to AccuWeather, a private forecasting service. In some areas, 12 inches of rain could fall.

— The New York Times

A helicopter in Angelus Oaks, Calif., dropped water on the El Dorado Fire in September.Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

A Southern California couple are facing manslaughter charges in connection with a deadly wildfire last September that prosecutors say was sparked by a smoke bomb during a gender reveal.

The El Dorado Fire, which began at a park in Yucaipa, Calif., killed a firefighter and injured two other firefighters while burning more than 22,000 acres across San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

A grand jury indicted the couple, Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez, on one count each of involuntary manslaughter, San Bernardino County’s district attorney, Jason Anderson, said at a news conference on Tuesday. They also face three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures and 22 misdemeanor counts.

About half of wildfires in the Western United States are caused by people — from downed power lines, discarded cigarettes, untended campfires — while the other half are started by lightning.

“Obviously, he wouldn’t have been out there if this hadn’t started in the first place,” Mr. Anderson said of Charles Morton, 39, the firefighter who was killed. “He’s fighting a fire that was started because of a smoke bomb. That’s the only reason he’s there.”

Both Mr. and Ms. Jimenez, who held the gender reveal, pleaded not guilty and were released without having to post bail. Lawyers representing them could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mr. Anderson said that if they were convicted, they could face several years in jail.

Mr. Morton began working at the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007, according to a statement from the U.S. Forest Service, and was survived by his wife, daughter, parents and two brothers. Vicki Christiansen, the agency’s chief, called Mr. Morton “a well-respected firefighter and leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times.”

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