A couple who inadvertently started a massive two-month-long wildfire that killed a firefighter when their gender reveal party went wrong 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, the New York Pot reports.
The fire started after the couple threw a baby gender reveal party using a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device that ignited dry grass at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains in California, US, in September 2020.
They desperately tried in vain to put out the blaze with bottled water, but it was quickly stoked by strong winds and dry conditions, authorities said.
The grass quickly caught fire which began rapidly spreading as the pair called emergency services.
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.
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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.
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 his 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.
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 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.
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.
“For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you.”