Ringo HW Chiu / AP
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif .– A couple whose sex disclosure ceremony sparked a wildfire in Southern California that killed a firefighter last year have been charged with manslaughter, authorities said Tuesday.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges relating to the El Dorado fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson told a press conference.
The charges included one count of manslaughter, as well as other counts of felony and misdemeanor related to the fire.
The El Dorado fire 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 desperately tried to use bottled water to put out the flames and called 911, authorities said.
Strong winds fueled the fire as it passed through the wilderness of a national forest, about 120 kilometers east of Los Angeles.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have made forest fires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
Terry Pierson / The Orange County Register via AP
On September 17, flames swept through a remote area where firefighters were cutting firewalls, 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, primarily with the US Forest Service.
The fire injured 13 other people and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents of small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest. He destroyed five houses and 15 other buildings.
The blaze blackened nearly 92 square kilometers of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before being brought under control on November 16.
The blaze was one of thousands in a record season of California wildfires that charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.
The couple were released on bail pending a September 15 court date.