(EL DORADO, Calif.) — A couple whose gender reveal celebration triggered the El Dorado Fire in California last year that killed a firefighter and left 13 injured has been charged.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez each were charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, the San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced Tuesday.
Other charges include 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 of recklessly causing fire to property.
The El Dorado Fire sparked on Sept. 5, 2020, when the couple and their young children set off a smoke bomb at a gender reveal ceremony at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.
The device ignited dry grass on the hot day, authorities said. Despite trying to douse the flames with a water bottle, strong winds fanned the fire and it ripped through the wilderness and national forest land, fueled by extremely dry conditions, Cal Fire said at the time.
The fire burned over 22,000 acres across San Bernardino and Riverside counties and forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents, officials said.
Charles Morton, 39, a 14-year veteran firefighter, died while fighting the flames. The blaze also injured two other firefighters and destroyed several residential structures, prosecutors said Tuesday.
“He’s fighting a fire that was started because of a smoke bomb — that’s the only reason he’s there,” Anderson said.
The defendants were arraigned in court on Tuesday and entered not guilty pleas. They were released on their own recognizance.
If convicted on all counts, they could face sentences in the “lower teens to low twenties” in terms of years, Anderson said.
The charges for the couple are seen as a warning to others as much of the western U.S. remains hot and dry, with wildfires still spreading and more than 18 million Americans under heat alerts.
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