The couple accused of sparking the deadly 2020 El Dorado wildfire during a gender reveal stunt have been charged with manslaughter.
Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez were arraigned on 30 charges on Tuesday, including the involuntary manslaughter of firefighter Charles Morton, who died battling the blaze in September of 2020.
The charges also included 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 fire to property of another, CNN reported.
They pleaded not guilty to all charges. Both were released on their own recognizance, due to return to court in September.
San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced the charges at a news conference on Tuesday, after the grand jury heard four days of testimony from 34 witnesses, and reviewed 434 exhibits.
He said the charges indicated the jury had determined the fatality — as well as the 13 firefighters who were injured — were a direct result of the "unbroken chain" of events that led to the fire, and not firefighter negligence.
"You're obviously dealing with lost lives, you're dealing with injured lives, and you're dealing with people's residences that were burned and their land that was burned. That encompasses a lot of, not only emotion, but damage, both financially and psychologically," he said.
original story 9/18/2020 10:00 AM
The family blamed with accidentally starting the El Dorado fire during a gender reveal party could be charged with manslaughter after a firefighter was killed fighting the blaze on Thursday.
The fatality was the El Dorado fire's first. The identity of the firefighter has not yet been revealed.
"Obviously, there's a lot that has to be determined before we speculate on whether they could be charged with manslaughter — but California law does provide that if somebody were responsible for starting a fire which killed a person, they could be charged with manslaughter," Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told TooFab on Friday.
Milloy then pointed to the 2006 Ezperanza fire, in which five California firefighters lost their lives.
"In cases like the Ezperanza fire, which was very different than this fire; an arsonist that actually knew what he was doing was charged with murder for killing the firefighters that died there. But that is obviously different, because he maliciously set that fire."
In that case, convicted arsonist Raymond Lee Oyler was sentenced to death.
Cal Fire believe the El Dorado was accidentally sparked by a "smoke generating pyrotechnic device" — designed to emit either blue or pink smoke — set off during a gender reveal party on September 5.
It has since burned up almost 20,000 acres of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and is still only 66 per cent contained.
At the time, Cal Fire warned: "Those responsible for starting fires due to negligence or illegal activity can be held financially and criminally responsible."
In his statement today, Milloy added, "To speculate on those charges, it is early on; the sheriff has to do a death investigation to determine the cause of that firefighter's death, and whether it's related to the fire."
If that is the case, "then there could be other legal implications."
The family involved in the gender reveal party has been fully cooperating with authorities so far; no charges have yet been brought.
At least 30 people have already died in other fires currently devastating the US West Coast.