San Bernardino, Calif. (AP) — A couple whose gender reveal ceremony sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter last year have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, officials announced Tuesday.
Refugio Manuel Jiménez Jr. and Angela Renée Jiménez pleaded not guilty to charges related to the El Dorado fire on Monday, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference.
The charges included one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, as well as other felony counts of fire-related and misdemeanor counts.
The El Dorado fire broke out on September 5 when the couple and their young children staged a baby gender reveal at Yucaipa’s El Dorado Ranch Park in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
A smoke-producing pyrotechnic device was installed in a field and dry grass was quickly ignited in a scorching sun. Officials said the couple tried to use bottled water to douse the fire and called 911.
Strong winds ignited the fire as he walked through the forest on National Forest land, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.
Extremely dry conditions and the heat waves associated with climate change have made it harder to fight wildfires. Climate change has made the West hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
On September 17, flames engulfed a remote area where firefighters were cutting the brakes of the fire, killing Charles Morton, 39, leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad. Morton had served as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the US Forest Service.
The fire injured 13 others and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. It destroyed five houses and 15 other buildings.
The fire darkened approximately 36 square miles (92 square kilometers) of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before being brought under control on November 16.
The fire was one of thousands during the record-breaking wildfire season in California that destroyed more than 4% of the state and killed 33 people, destroying nearly 10,500 buildings.
The couple were released on their own identities pending a court date of September 15.