A California couple whose gender reveal party led to a wildfire that killed a firefighter and burned more than 22,000 acres have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty Monday to the El Dorado fire that killed firefighter Charles Morton, 39, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said at a news conference.
The El Dorado fire broke out on Sept. 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 burning day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to extinguish the flames and called 911, authorities said.
Strong winds stoked the fire as it swept through the wilderness on national forest land about 75 miles (75 km) east of Los Angeles.
The fire blackened nearly 36 square miles of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before finally being extinguished on Nov. 16.
BOBCAT FIRE: The Bobcat Fire was also pictured last September through the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County, north of Azusa.
CREEK FIRE: A firefighter puts out flames as they push toward homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California last September
Firefighter Charles Morton, 39, died fighting the blaze. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, primarily with the US Forest Service
The charges against the Jimenez family include one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, along with three felony counts of reckless causing a fire with major bodily harm, four felony counts of reckless causing fires in occupied buildings, and 22 different felony counts related to the fire.
Prosecutors had asked for $50,000 bail for Refugio and Angela each, they were released with promises to return to court pending a September 15 trial date.
The pair were indicted by a grand jury and the charges were unsealed on 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 Attorney General and the Sheriff’s Department for their hard work and dedication in filing charges in this case.”
“Our thoughts are today and always with Charlie’s family, friends and colleagues,” the ranger said.
Officials announced the allegations during a press conference on Tuesday
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier over the past 30 years, and wildfires will continue to be more frequent and devastating.
Morton, the leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed on September 17 when the fire engulfed a remote area where firefighters were cutting firebreaks.
There were 13 other people injured, including two firefighters. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, primarily with the US Forest Service.
The inferno destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings as it forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area.
CREEK FIRE: Firefighter Ricardo Gomez sets off a controlled burn with a drop torch while fighting the Creek Fire in Shaver Lake, California last September
GLASS FIRE: A woman wearing flame-resistant clothing photographs a plane 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 on 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 California wildfire season 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 regrets after the El Dorado fire.
Jenna Karvunidis posted her critique of gender reveal parties on her Facebook page High Gloss and Sauce on Sept. 7 — just two days after the massive blaze began to spread.
‘Oh my god NO. The fire that has evacuated parts of California originated from a GENDER REVEAL PARTY. Stop. Stop the stupid parties,” she wrote.
“For the love of God, stop burning things to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. Nobody cares but you.’
She continued: “It was 116 degrees in Pasadena yesterday and this tool thought it would be smart to start a fire around his kid’s dick. Toxic masculinity means men think they have to explode something, because enjoying a baby shower is for sissies.”
“Oh, and of course I get 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.’