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Couple Face Jail Time After Gender Reveal Party Sparked Deadly Wildfire

A group of inmate firefighters watch as the El Dorado Fire burns a hillside near homes in Mountain Home Village, Calif., inside the San Bernardino National Forest, on Sept. 9, 2020. | Image: Kyle Grillot / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

A US 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 Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference.

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The charges included one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, along with other felony and misdemeanor counts related to the fire. The couple each face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted as charged.

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.

The fire “was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party,” Cal Fire said at the time. The device 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.

The fire was stoked by strong winds as it ran through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles.

By the time the fire was extinguished on November 16, it had burned 22,680 acres in the Oak Glen/Yucaipa Ridge area and within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest, CBS Los Angeles reported. At the peak of the fire, there were 1,351 personnel assigned to the fire.

Firefighter Charlie Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad was battling the El Dorado Fire when he was killed. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the U.S. Forest Service.

San Bernardino National Forest firefighter David Cruz lowers his head during the last call for Charles Morton, the U.S. Forest Service firefighter assigned to the Big Bear Hotshots who was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 17 on the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest, during his memorial service at The Rock Church in San Bernardino on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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.

The fire injured 13 other people and forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. It destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings.

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.

The couple are due to appear in court on 15 September.

A gender-reveal party is a party held during pregnancy to reveal the baby’s sex to the expectant parents, family, and friends. The practice originated in the United States during the late 2000s.

Two days after the El Dorado Fire started to spread, Jenna Karvunidis, the woman known for popularizing gender reveal parties expressed her regret on her Facebook page.

Oh my god NO. The fire that evacuated parts of California is from a GENDER REVEAL PARTY. Stop it. Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” Karvunidis wrote.

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