Couple charged in connection to starting California wildfire that resulted in firefighter's death

A burned out bus is shown after a fire in El Dorado County. File photo.

Officials charged a California couple in connection with the deadly El Dorado wildfire in September 2020 that started during a gender reveal gone wrong and resulted in the death of a firefighter.

Refugio Manuel Jimenez and Angela Renee Jimenez were each charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, four felony charges of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures, three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire that led to great bodily injury, and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing fire to property of another, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced Tuesday.

The two pleaded not guilty Tuesday and were released on their own recognizance. They are due back in court Sept. 15. The couple faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges, according to CBS Los Angeles.

The fire started Sept. 6 and was caused by a pyrotechnical device that malfunctioned during a gender reveal party. It was extinguished Nov. 16, but by then, the fire had burned over 22,000 acres of land within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest.

One firefighter, Charlie Morton, died trying to fight the blaze and 13 others were injured.

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"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," read a press release from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection issued at the time.

"Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible," it added.

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