The couple behind a gender-reveal celebration that resulted in a major California wildfire last September will reportedly face manslaughter charges.
The El Dorado fire began on September 5, 2020, after Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez set off a smoke bomb during a gender reveal party held at El Dorado Ranch Park in the Los Angeles suburb of Yucaipa. The bomb ignited dry grass, which the couple attempted to extinguish using bottled water. But the powerful winds and plentiful dry grass of California fire season were stronger, and the fire went on to burn for months, as the state endured its worst fire season on record.
By the time the fire was extinguished on November 16, it had burned across 22,000 acres throughout San Bernardino and Riverside Counties — injuring two firefighters and killing one.
The couple have each been indicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Charles Morton, as the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday. Morton was a 39-year-old firefighter and leader of the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, a firefighting unit based in the San Bernardino National Forest, according to the New York Times.
The couple also faces three felony counts of “recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury” after more than a dozen were injured due to the blaze. according to the local news station KTLA. If convicted as charged, the couple could face up to 20 years imprisonment each.
In a press conference held Tuesday, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced that the Jimenezes have pleaded not guilty to the charges. They have been released from jail, and the trial is set for September 15.
Their party is not the only gender reveal to cause bodily injury or harm, and it isn’t even the first gender reveal party to start a wildfire. In 2017, Arizona border patrol agent Dennis Dickey accidentally started the Sawmill wildfire that swept through Colorado National Forest land and ultimately caused more than $8 million in damages.
The fire began after Dickey shot a rifle at a target filled with a colored substance intended to reveal his baby’s sex assigned at birth, according to NBC News. More than 800 firefighters had to be called to contain the blaze, which burned over 45,000 acres in the course of a week.
Dickey ultimately pled guilty and was fined $8.1 million in restitution.
Several other gender reveal-related deaths have also made headlines. Earlier this year, a father-to-be died when a device intended to be used for a gender reveal at a party detonated as he was assembling it. And in 2019, a grandmother-to-be was killed by a flying piece of shrapnel after a family inadvertently created a pipe bomb for the purposes of a gender reveal.
In the wake of the increasing trend of deadly and destructive gender reveals, Jenna Karvunidis — the blogger who is credited with inventing the trend — has criticized the popularization of the phenomenon. In a September 2020 Facebook post she wrote: “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.”
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