Couple whose ‘gender reveal’ sparked California wildfire charged

The couple were charged with involuntary manslaughter for the 2020 blaze, which killed a firefighter.

A couple have been charged for accidentally sparking a 2020 wildfire in California that killed a firefighter [File: The Associated Press]

A couple whose gender reveal ceremony sparked a wildfire in the US state of California that killed a firefighter last year have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty to charges involving the 2020 El Dorado fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference on Tuesday.

The charges included one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, along with other felony and misdemeanour counts related to the fire.

The blaze erupted on September 5 when the couple and their young children staged a baby “gender reveal” at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.

A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911, authorities said.

Strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through the wilderness on national forest land, about 120km (75 miles) east of Los Angeles.

On September 17, flames overran a remote area where firefighters were clearing growth to stop the spread of the fire, killing Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the US Forest Service.

The blaze, which charred nearly 92sq km (36sq miles) injured 13 other people and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. It destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings.

Extremely dry conditions and heatwaves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight.

Climate change has made the western United States much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The fire was one of the thousands during a record-breaking wildfire season in California that charred more than 4 percent of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.

The couple were released on their own recognisance pending a September 15 court date.

Source: News Agencies