A Californian couple has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter after a firefighter died last year battling a blaze that began at their gender reveal party. The charges included one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, along with other felony and misdemeanor counts related to the fire, reports SF Gate.
The fire was ignited on September 5th, 2020, by the smoke-generating pyrotechnic device they were using to reveal the gender of their baby at a party at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.
CAL FIRE Law Enforcement has determined the El Dorado Fire, burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County, was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party. The fire began at 10:23 am on September 5, 2020, in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. The fire spread from the park to the north on to Yucaipa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa.
– CalFire Press Release
According to CNN, an unreleased video from the party showed a couple with several children walking into the grass at the edge of the El Dorado Ranch Park. Another person can be seen lighting the device. Within a short space of time, the family can then be seen panicking and grabbing water bottles as the fire spreads.
“It really is a tragedy, it’s sad. They were hoping to remember the day in a different way.”
– CalFire investigator Capt. Bennet Milloy
The fire was eventually contained more than a month later, on 16th November, but not after it had burned 36-square-miles, injured 13 people, destroyed five homes and fifteen buildings, and cost a firefighter his life.
Charles Morton, 39, who had spent most of his career working for the US Forest Service, was killed on September 17 when flames overran a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks. Morton was the leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty to charges relating to Morton’s death and the destruction caused by the fire.
The couple have been released on bail and will appear in court later this year.
At least 95% of California’s wildfires are human-caused.