Judge allows 29 charges in deadly California wildfire caused by gender-reveal device to go forward

A Superior Court judge in San Bernardino on Monday, Jan. 23, dismissed one felony count against the couple accused of setting the deadly El Dorado fire in 2020 but let stand 29 other charges, including the most serious.

Attorneys for Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and wife Angelina Renee Jimenez told Judge Ronald M. Christianson on Oct. 28 that the brush was accidentally ignited on Sept. 5, 2020, at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, when a smoky gender-reveal device malfunctioned.

The attorneys said the Jimenezes could not be blamed for the death of hotshot crew boss Charlie Morton, who died 12 days later in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the San Bernardino National Forest when flames burned over him. But the judge rejected that argument and left it for a jury to decide. That involuntary manslaughter charge carries the most potential jail time of all the charges, four years.

Refugio Jimenez, center, covers up his face with a mask and a jacket, as he and wife, Angelina Jimenez, back left, leave the San Bernardino Justice Center in San Bernardino on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 with their attorneys after appearing in court for the first time since being charged with involuntary manslaughter and arson-related crimes. The couple is accused of igniting the El Dorado fire in Yucaipa which was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG) 

Christianson dismissed one of the four counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure, a felony. The Jimenezes also remain charged with three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to the property of another.

Related Articles

Crime and Public Safety |

Santa Clara, Santa Cruz counties share jurisdiction in Loma Prieta area

US Climate disasters in 2022 responsible for 474 deaths and $165 billion in damages
Forest health, safety project aims to reduce wildfire risk in Los Gatos Creek Watershed
Bay Area fire hazard map: See how it has changed since 2007
Marin County’s riskiest fire zones expand in state map
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Crane argued against the charges being dismissed, countering that the Jimenezes should have known better than to set off the smoky device on a 103-degree day with low humidity in a park containing extremely dry brush.

Residents of Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, Angelus Oaks, Seven Oaks and Barton Flats were evacuated. The fire also burned in Cherry Valley in Riverside County. The fire burned 22,680 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged four others.

The couple, who are on leave from their jobs as correctional officers at California Institution for Women in Chino, are not in custody.

The parties are due back in court on Friday.