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Couple whose gender reveal party reportedly sparked deadly wildfire charged with involuntary manslaughter, face up to 20 years in prison

Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

Authorities have charged a couple whose gender reveal celebration reportedly sparked a raging wildfire with felony involuntary manslaughter and other charges after a firefighter lost his life battling the blaze.

If convicted on the charge, the couple could face up to 20 years in prison.

What are the details?

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced charges against Refugio Manuel Jiminez Jr. and Angela Renee Jiminez at a recent news conference, Buzzfeed News reported.

According to the report, both Refugio and Angela pleaded not guilty to one felony count of 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 misdemeanors of recklessly causing fire to property after 22,000 acres burned in 2020 after the couple lit a smoke bomb to announce the gender of their then-unborn child.

NPR reported Tuesday that the El Dorado Fire erupted in early September when the couple staged their gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, California.

The fire erupted after the couple's "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field" inside the the park and ignited dry grass, authorities said. The couple was unable to contain the fire with bottled water, and phoned authorities to report the blaze, which was quickly spreading out of control.

From there, the fire spread for more than eight weeks, killing Charlie Morton, squad boss for the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew of the San Bernardino National Forest, who had worked as a firefighter for nearly two decades before his death.

The blaze also injured at least 13 other people and forced hundreds of area residents from their home in the afflicted area while blackening nearly 36 square miles of land in both San Bernardino and Riverside counties before firefighters were able to contain the fire on Nov. 16.

Anything else?

In announcing the charges, Anderson said the fire had a "tremendous impact on the community."

In September, the San Bernardino National Forest's official Twitter account tweeted, "Sharing our deepest sympathies from Chief Vicki Christiansen: 'Thursday evening we lost one of our own. Charlie Morton, Squad Boss for the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew of the San Bernardino National Forest, was tragically killed during efforts to ... suppress the El Dorado Fire on their home unit. Our hearts go out to Charlie's loved ones, friends, coworkers and the Big Bear Hotshots."

The couple were released on their own recognizance and are set to appear in court on Sept. 15.

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