Man Pleads Guilty To Gender Reveal That Sparked Deadly Wildfire

One man will go to jail for his role in sparking the 2020 wildfire in Southern California that caused mass damage and resulted in a firefighter dying.

On Friday, prosecutors said that the man, Refugio Jimenez Jr., pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his role in a gender reveal that caused the El Dorado fire.

Jimenez, as well as his wife Angelina and their young children, were staging a photo shoot to reveal the gender of their new baby at the El Dorado Ranch Park, located in Yucaipa, California, not far from the San Bernardino Mountains.

They were using a pyrotechnic device that was supposed to generate smoke of a particular color — either blue representing a boy or pink representing a girl.

Unfortunately, the device malfunctioned and caused a fire to ignite in dry grass on the hot day. While the couple tried to douse the flames with bottled water, and quickly called 911, they weren’t able to contain the fire.

There were strong winds in the area that day, which caused the fire to spread quickly through the wilderness in the national forest, which is about 75 miles east of the city of Los Angeles.

On September 17 of 2020, Charles Morton was killed while trying to fight the fire in a remote area. He had served for 18 years as a firefighter, most of which were with the U.S. Forest Service.

According to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, Jimenez pleaded guilty last Friday to involuntary manslaughter (one count) as well as recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure (two counts).

As part of his plea deal, he’ll spend one year in jail, which will start on February 23, when he will be taken into custody. In addition, he must complete 200 hours of community service and serve two years of felony probation upon his release.

Angelina Jimenez also pleaded guilty to recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was charged with three counts of this crime, which is a misdemeanor. She’ll serve one year of summary probation and must complete 400 hours of community service.

In addition, the couple has to pay nearly $1.8 million in restitution.

In a statement, District Attorney Jason Anderson offered condolences to the Morton family when he said:

“Resolving the case was never going to be a win. To the victims who lost so much, including their homes with valuables and memories, we understand those intangibles can never be replaced.”

On the third anniversary of the fire in September, the U.S. Forest Service sued the manufacturers, sellers and distributors of the pyrotechnic device, as well as the couple. In the lawsuit, they allege these “Smoke Bombs” were known to be defective, and were also illegal to use in California.

The lawyer for the couple, Mike Scafiddi, argued that his clients researched and also tested the device before they set it off that day, and they didn’t find any problems beforehand. As he explained:

“It was unforeseeable in all minds.”