Couple who sparked El Dorado Fire during gender-reveal ceremony charged with involuntary manslaughter

National and World

A firefighter puts out a hot spot along Highway 38 northwest of Forrest Falls, Calif., as the El Dorado Fire continues to burn Thursday afternoon. The fire was started by a device at a gender reveal party on Saturday. (Will Lester/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

(NEXSTAR) – The couple whose gender-reveal stunt sparked last year’s deadly El Dorado Fire in Southern California has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, among dozens of other charges.

The fire, which burned through more than 22,000 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, was said to have been sparked on Sept. 5 after Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez arranged to detonate a gender-reveal “smoke bomb” in El Dorado Park, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

The fire burned through mid-November, destroying homes, buildings, and resulted in the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Charles Morton, as well as injury to other people.

A criminal grand jury returned an indictment of Refugio Jimenez and Angela Jimenez this week, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said at a Tuesday press conference.

In response to a reporter who asked how the grand jury determined the criminal charges — specifically a manslaughter charge — Anderson suggested that jury was presented with evidence from the U.S. Forest Service and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, in regards to culpability.

“Obviously, [Morton] wouldn’t have been out there if this hadn’t started in the first place, in terms of where he was,” Anderson said.

“The homicide detectives worked with U.S. Forestry, with their experts, to determine cause and effect. So looking at that, we thought that based upon the evidence … that’s why the grand jury made a determination to charge involuntary manslaughter.”

The El Dorado Fire, also known as the Gender Reveal Fire, burned through mid-November, destroying homes, buildings, and resulted in the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Charles Morton (Terry Pierson/The Orange County Register via AP, Fire)

Refugio Jimenez and Angela Jimenez have been charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, 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 the property of another, Anderson said.

The two pleaded not guilty at an arraignment and will return to court on Sept. 15, Anderson said.

The district attorney’s office requested the Jimenez couple be held on bail, though both were released on their own recognizances.

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