A California couple has been charged in connection to the deadly El Dorado Fire that ravaged the region for weeks.
According to CBS affiliate KCAL 9, defendants Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez are accused of sparking the fire after setting off a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device for their gender reveal party. The blaze began on Sept. 5, 2020, at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. Authorities say the Jimenez family staged the gender reveal during dry and hot conditions at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. During the event, the aforementioned smoke bomb reportedly malfunctioned and caused the ground to catch fire.
“They lit that device. It produced smoke, which ignited the season grasses that was immediately adjacent,” CalFire Capt. Bennet Milloy said, as reported by KESQ. “That grass immediately spread across to Yucaipa Ridge and then eventually to Oak Glen,” CalFire Capt. Bennet Milloy said.
Within a 23-day period, the fire burned more than 22,000 acres in the Oak Glen and Yucaipa Ridge areas. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate their homes, dozens of structures were destroyed, about a dozen injuries were reported, and one firefighter, Charles Morton, was killed. The fire wasn’t completely extinguished until mid-November.
The couple is facing a total of eight felony counts and 22 misdemeanor counts, including one 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.
According to The Desert Sun, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson said that the couple is facing several years in prison if they are found guilty on all of the charges. Somewhere between the “lower teens to low twenties,” Anderson reportedly said.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez reportedly pleaded not guilty to the charges, and are expected to be back in court on Sept. 15.