A couple whosea wildfire in southern California that Last year, the leader of an elite firefighting team was charged with manslaughter, authorities said on 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. CBS Los Angeles was unable to make contact with the couple, although they each face up to 20 years behind bars if found guilty.
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. The device quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching hot day.
The fire “was caused by a pyrotechnic device generating smoke, used during a gender reveal party”, Cal Fire said at the time.
The couple desperately tried to use bottled water to put out the flames and called 911, authorities said.
Strong winds stoked the fire as it passed through the wilderness of a national forest, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles.
By the time the fire was put out on November 16, it had burned 22,680 acres in the Oak Glen / Yucaipa Ridge area and the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest, CBS Los Angeles reported. . At the height of the fire, 1,351 people were affected by the blaze
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves associated withhave 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.
On September 17, flames invaded a remote area where firefighters were cutting firebreaks,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 fire blackened nearly 36 square miles of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
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.