A California couple whose gender reveal party sparked a wildfire that killed a firefighter and burned more than 22,000 acres has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire which killed firefighter Charles Morton, 39, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said at a news conference.
The El Dorado Fire erupted on September 5 when the couple and their young children staged a baby gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.
A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911, authorities said.
Strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles.
The blaze blackened nearly 36 square miles of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before it was finally extinguished on November 16.
BOBCAT FIRE: The Bobcat Fire was also pictured burning through the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, north of Azusa, last September
CREEK FIRE: A firefighter douses flames as they push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California last September
Firefighter Charles Morton, 39, was killed battling the blaze. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years mostly with the U.S. Forest Service
The charges against the Jimenez family include one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, along with 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 various misdemeanor counts related to the fire.
Prosecutors had requested that bail be set in the amount of $50,000 each for Refugio and Angela, they were released with the promise of returning to court pending a September 15 court date.
The couple was indicted by a grand jury and the indictment was unsealed Tuesday, according to the Press Telegram. The jury heard four days of testimony from 34 witnesses and reviewed 434 exhibits.
In a statement posted to Twitter, the San Bernardino National Forest said: ‘We would like to thank the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department for their hard work and diligence in bringing forth charges in this case.’
‘Our thoughts are with Charlie’s family, friends and colleagues today and always,’ the forest service said.
Officials announced the charges at a press conference on Tuesday
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Morton, the leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed on September 17 when the blaze overran a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks.
There were 13 other people injured, including two firefighters. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years mostly with the U.S. Forest Service.
The inferno destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings as it forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area.
CREEK FIRE: Firefighter Ricardo Gomez sets a controlled burn with a drip torch while fighting the Creek Fire in Shaver Lake, California last September
GLASS FIRE: A woman wearing flame-resistant clothing photographs an airplane as it drops red fire retardant on the Glass Fire at a vineyard in Deer Park, California last September
GLASS FIRE: Dr. Claudia Sonder and Jessie Whitman of Napa CART gather two donkeys at a property along Quail lane during the Glass Fire in Deer Park, California last September
The fire was one of thousands during a record-breaking wildfire season in California that charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.
The blogger known for popularizing gender reveal parties in 2008 took to her Facebook page to express her regret after the El Dorado fire.
Jenna Karvunidis posted her criticism about gender reveal parties to her Facebook page High Gloss and Sauce on September 7 – just two days after the massive fire started to spread.
‘Oh my god NO. The fire that evacuated parts of California is from a GENDER REVEAL PARTY. Stop it. Stop having these stupid parties,’ she wrote.
‘For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you.’
She continued: ‘It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday and this tool thought it would be smart to light a fire about his kid’s dick. Toxic masculinity is men thinking they need to explode something because simply enjoying a baby party is for sissies.’
‘Oh, and of course I’m getting hate messages. Excuse me for having a cake for my family in 2008. Just because I’m the gEnDeR rEvEaL iNVeNtoR doesn’t mean I think people should burn down their communities.’