Couple whose gender-reveal party sparked 2020 fire charged with involuntary manslaughter

Firefighters make their way up a hill with flames ahead
Firefighters head toward flames as the El Dorado fire approaches in Yucaipa in September 2020.
(Los Angeles Times)

In September — as a record heat wave crested over Southern California — a couple set off a smoke-emitting pyrotechnic device at a gender-reveal party in a Yucaipa park.

Such devices typically shoot off blue or pink smoke to signal the gender of an expected child. In this case, the device sparked a fast-moving brush fire.

The El Dorado fire, as it came to be known, ultimately charred 22,000 acres and resulted in the death of U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Charles Morton. Two firefighters were injured during the fire. The blaze injured 13 other people, forced hundreds to evacuate and destroyed five homes.


On Tuesday afternoon, authorities announced that involuntary manslaughter charges had been filed against Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez in connection with the fire. They were also charged with 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, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.

At a media briefing Tuesday afternoon, San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Jason Anderson said the defendants were arraigned Tuesday and that both pleaded not guilty. They were released without bail.

“No less than six agencies were involved in containing, extinguishing and investigating the El Dorado fire,” Anderson said. “I would like to personally thank the United States Forest Service, Cal Fire, the San Bernardino County Fire Department, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division and the city of Yucaipa.”

Anderson also thanked the public for their patience as the case was investigated and reviewed, saying he was aware that many community members may have been frustrated at times by the pace of the investigation.