A video released by the U.S. Forest Service shows the moment that went horribly wrong when an off-duty Border Patrol agent in Arizona sparked an $8 million forest fire via a pyrotechnic stunt at a gender reveal party for his pregnant wife. Take a look:
Sparked in April 2017, the wildfire began when Border Patrol agent Dennis Dickey shot a target that contained Tannerite, an explosive substance designed to detonate when shot with a high-velocity firearm, according to Tuscon. As seen in the video above, which was obtained by the Arizona Daily Star through the Freedom of Information Act, the explosion emitted a blue powder to indicate the male gender; unfortunately, it also spread into the neighboring dry brush, sparking the notorious Sawmill Fire. Tannerite actually does sell a gender reveal package for just $85 online. The page warns, “some counties in the State of California may require an explosive or destructive device permit for use of binary rifle targets.” No mention of Arizona.
This past September, Dennis Dickey plead guilty in federal court for the misdemeanor charge of starting a fire without a permit. He has been ordered to pay $220,000 in restitution. The fire caused $8.2 million in damage and required nearly 800 firefighters from various agencies to extinguish. More on the fire’s damage from Tuscon:
The fire was started by Dickey on state-owned land near Madera Canyon. It spread across the Santa Rita Mountains foothills to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, including portions of the Empire Ranch. At its peak, the fire forced the closure of Arizona 83.
At the time Dickey shot the explosive target, winds were gusting up to 40 mph and the National Weather Service had issued a fire watch, Chuck Wunder, chief of the Green Valley Fire Department, told the Arizona Daily Star in May 2017. A fire watch is a red flag, warning that “conditions are ideal for wildland fire combustion and that there is potential for rapid spread,” Wunder said.
No injuries were reported from the fire and no buildings were destroyed, but some households in the Greaterville and Singing Valley areas were evacuated. At times, hundreds of homeowners were under pre-evacuation orders.
Under his plea agreement, Dickey will pay $100,000 in restitution and another $120,000 in monthly installments of $500 for the next 20 years. He will also be sentenced to five years of probation.
The 37-year-old Dickey expressed his sincere apologies to U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie A. Bowman, asserting he meant no harm.
“It was a complete accident,” Dickey said. “I feel absolutely horrible about it. It was probably one of the worst days of my life.”
Since Dickey did not intentionally start the fire, he could not be charged with arson. To pay the hefty fee of $110,000, he will borrow from his retirement. Other outlets have reported that Dickey has been forced to pay the full $8 million in damages, however his lawyer stated that would simply be unreasonable since he would never be able to pay it off. Heavy reports he kept his job as a Border Patrol agent.