Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Evening Edition

Firefighter Killed Battling Wildfire Sparked By Gender Reveal Party Was San Diego Native

Charles Morton in an undated photo released Sept. 21, 2020, by the U.S. Forest Service.
U.S. Forest Service
Charles Morton in an undated photo released Sept. 21, 2020, by the U.S. Forest Service.

Authorities revealed Tuesday that a firefighter who died last week battling a San Bernardino County wildfire sparked by gender-reveal pyrotechnics was a San Diego native.

Charles Morton, 39, a squad boss with the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots, died Thursday while battling the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino mountains, according to San Bernardino National Forest officials.

Morton was born in San Diego and started his career in 2002 as Corspman with the California Conservation Corps at the Butte Fire Center in Magalia, according to officials with the U.S. Forest Service. He began working for the U.S. Forest Service in 2006 with the Truckee Interagency Hotshots on the Tahoe National Forest, then joined the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007.


"Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times," U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to Charlie's loved ones, coworkers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers."

Morton is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins and friends, according to a statement from his family.

The El Dorado fire broke out Sept. 5 near Yucaipa in San Bernardino County. As of 9 p.m. Monday, the blaze had burned 22,588 acres, was 60% contained, destroyed 10 structures and resulted in 13 injuries, along with Morton's death, according to Cal Fire. The blaze was sparked by a smoke device used at a gender reveal party.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.