A couple whose gender reveal party sparked a deadly Southern California wildfire in 2020 has pleaded guilty to several charges, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office said on Feb. 9.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. pleaded guilty to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter for the death of firefighter Charlie Morton, and two counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.
He was sentenced to one year in county jail, two years of felony probation, and 200 hours of community service. Mr. Jimenez will be remanded into custody on Feb. 23, prosecutors said.
His wife, Angelina Jimenez, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts for recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was sentenced to one year of summary probation and 400 hours of community service.
The couple was also ordered to pay victims’ restitution in the amount of $1,789,972, according to prosecutors.
“Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a statement.
Mr. Anderson said the couple’s reckless conduct “had tremendous impact on land, properties, emergency response resources, the displacement of entire communities,” and also resulted in Mr. Morton’s death.
“All these factors were given an extraordinary amount of consideration throughout every step of investigation, the Grand Jury process, and court proceedings,” Mr. Anderson said.
Prosecutors said the resolution came after nearly four years of investigation and litigation. They also sought input from the victims as to an agreement of their restitution and appropriate punitive action.
How It BeganThe fire started on Sept. 5, 2020, when the couple and their young children staged a baby gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.
A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. Authorities said the couple tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911.
Strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.
The U.S. Forest Service in September filed a lawsuit against the pyrotechnic device’s manufacturers, distributors and sellers, as well as the couple. The lawsuit alleges that the “Smoke Bombs” used were illegal in California and known to be defective.
The blaze 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 and blackened nearly 36 square miles of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before it was contained on Nov. 16, 2020.