A grand jury has indicted two people on 30 charges relating to the unintentional starting of the El Dorado Fire that burned 22,000 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties and resulted in the death of a firefighter last year.
During a press conference on July 20, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced the charges against Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez, who were expectant parents when they used a color-coded smoke bomb at El Dorado Park in Yucaipa to reveal the gender of their baby on Sept. 5, 2020. It was a hot and windy day and the fire quickly got out of control.
The couple will face eight felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter, for the death of U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Charles Morton.
Two additional firefighters were injured while fighting the fire, which displaced several residential communities. In all, 22 victims were listed within the charges.
Six agencies were involved in containing, extinguishing and investigating the fire, including the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, San Bernardino County Fire, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division and the city of Yucaipa.
“[These charges] encompass the impact that this conduct had on the community here in San Bernardino County. We’re dealing with lost lives, injured lives and people’s residences that were burned and their land that was burned. That encompasses not only a lot of emotion but damage, both financially and psychologically, that many will never get back,” Anderson said. “Because it resonated so much within the community and there were so many investigations that occurred, both on the federal and state level, it shows the complexity of these types of fires, it shows the risk, particularly in our area, in regards to this type of conduct. It shows that, in cases like this, it’s the community that has to determine how they view this type of conduct.”
If the suspects, who pleaded not guilty, are ultimately convicted, Anderson said the judge’s sentencing could be imprisonment for about 20 years.
“In terms of the basis of starting a fire, whether it's a gender reveal or some other circumstance, while there was a component of public interest in that, for us it was a little bit beside the point because at the end of the day it was a fire that went out of control and ended up hurting people,” Anderson said.