TUCSON, Arizona — An off-duty border patrol agent pleaded guilty to sparking a massive wildfire in a bizarre incident that involved detonating an explosive as part of a gender reveal party.
Dennis Dickey, 37, admitted that in April 2017, he fired a rifle at a target containing Tannerite, a highly explosive substance that was designed to emit a pink or blue puff of smoke that would tell partygoers whether the baby was a boy or a girl.
But the explosion instead sparked a blaze that quickly spread into the nearby Coronado National Forest, destroying 45,000 acres of land and causing more than $8 million in damages, federal prosecutors said.
Dickey immediately contacted authorities and cooperated from the beginning.
“It was a complete accident,” Dickey said in court, according to the Arizona Daily Star. “I feel absolutely horrible about it. It was probably one of the worst days of my life.”
It took 800 firefighters about a week to bring the blaze — called the Sawmill Fire — under control. No one was hurt in the fire and no homes were destroyed.
Dickey was sentenced to five years’ probation, and will make a public service announcement with the U.S. Forest Service. He agreed to pay $220,000 in restitution — $100,000 up front and the rest in monthly installments over the next 20 years.
Dickey’s lawyer said he believed is client would be able to keep his job with the U.S. Border Patrol as the fire wasn’t considered arson because it was set accidentally.