Couple charged with manslaughter after ‘gender reveal party sparked deadly fire’

A couple in the US whose gender reveal party sparked a massive two month-long wildfire that killed a firefighter have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges over the fire that killed 39-year-old firefighter Charles Morton, according to reports.

The El Dorado Fire tore through California’s San Bernadino Mountains on September 5, after the couple threw a baby gender reveal party at a ranch at the foot of the range.

The couple used a pyrotechnic device to generate coloured smoke in a dry field on a hot day to reveal the baby’s gender at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.

The grass quickly caught fire which began rapidly spreading as the pair called emergency services for help and tried unsuccessfully to use bottled water to douse the flames.

Firefighter Charles Morton was killed in the blaze sparked by the gender reveal party

Firefighters fought to bring the inferno under control as it ripped through the dry forest land on the San Bernadino mountains for months.

Mr Morton was tragically killed as the flames overran an area where he and other firefighters were cutting a fire break.

The blaze reportedly destroyed nearly 36 square miles of land, five homes, and damaged four more properties before it was finally extinguished on November 16.

According to the Press Telegram, the San Bernadino County district attorney said the pair had been charged with 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, and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to property of another.

The couple pleaded not guilty to all charges and were released on bail.

A firefighter douses flames as they push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California
Hundreds of firefighters battled to bring the blaze under control for two months

District Attorney Jason Anderson told media the grand jury’s indictment suggested they had found an “unbroken chain” of events — one that did not include firefighter negligence — that led to Mr Morton’s death.

He had been cutting fire breaks along with firefighters working to save homes in Forest Falls from the El Dorado fire when the blaze overwhelmed him.

His tragic death left behind fiancee, Monica Tapia.

Thirteen more people, including two more firefighters, had been injured fighting the wildfire and survived, according to the report detailing the court documents.

A woman wearing flame-resistant clothing watches an airplane drop fire retardant on the El Dorado fire as it reached Deer Park
A woman wearing flame-resistant clothing watches an airplane drop fire retardant on the El Dorado fire as it reached Deer Park

Residents of the homes the hero firefighter had been trying to save lined the streets when his coffin was escorted down a highway in a funeral procession.

A spokesman for the United States Forest Service said in a written statement: “We would like to thank the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department for their hard work and diligence in bringing forth charges in this case. Our thoughts are with Charlie’s family, friends and colleagues today and always.”

The fire was among thousands that season that tore through California, killing 33 people and destroying more than 10,000 buildings.

The ferocity of the devastating blazes in the state’s increasingly dry condition made the blazes difficult to bring under control.

A firefighter works the scene as flames push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California
Thirteen more people, including two firefighters, were injured in the El Dorado fire

A blogger known for popularising gender reveal parties more than a decade ago posted on Facebook following the El Dorado fire to beg people to stop the pyrotechnics, which have previously been associated with fatal explosions.

Christopher Pekny, 28, from New York State, was killed assembling a gender reveal device in February.

A man from Michigan was killed earlier this month after he was struck by shrapnel from “a small cannon type device” fired during a baby shower, police said.

Grandmother Pamela Kreimeyer, 56, was killed in Iowa in 2019 when a homemade device meant to discharge coloured powder instead exploded like a pipe bomb.

A blue spark from a gender reveal party was also blamed for a wildfire that ripped through Arizona in 2018.

Blogger Jenna Karvunidis posted her criticism about gender reveal parties to her Facebook page two days after the El Dorado fire started to spread.

She wrote: “Oh my god NO. The fire that evacuated parts of California is from a GENDER REVEAL PARTY. Stop it. Stop having these stupid parties,’ she wrote.

“For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you.”

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