Couple reaches plea deal in case tied to El Dorado fire

February 13, 2024

A couple whose gender-reveal party ignited the El Dorado fire in San Bernardino County in 2020 has been sentenced following a plea agreement with prosecutors.

The party, held on a particularly hot day at a Yucaipa park, utilized a pyrotechnic device intended to release blue or pink smoke to announce the gender of their baby.

Instead, it sparked a fire that rapidly spread across 22,000 acres.

The blaze resulted in the death of U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter Charles Morton, injured 15 others, including two firefighters, and led to the destruction of five homes while forcing hundreds to evacuate.

Sentences handed down to the Jimenez couple

Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. received a sentence of one year in county jail, two years of felony probation, and community service after pleading guilty to a felony count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Charles Morton.

He also pleaded guilty to two felony counts of recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure.

Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to another’s property.

She was sentenced to a year of summary probation and community service.

The sentencing reflects the grave consequences of the couple’s actions and underscores the legal system’s stance on such reckless behavior.

Restitution and hopes for closure

In addition to their sentences, the Jimenezes were ordered to pay restitution to the victims, totaling $1,789,972.

This figure is intended to cover the damages and losses incurred by those affected by the fire.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson commented on the resolution of the case: “Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” he said.

“To the victims who lost so much, including their homes with valuables and memories, we understand those are intangibles can never be replaced.

“Our hope with this resolution is that it closes a painful chapter in your lives, and the restitution provides a measure of assistance in becoming whole again.”

FSJA Comment

This case serves as a stark reminder of the unforeseen consequences that can arise from seemingly celebratory actions.

The sentencing of Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Jimenez highlights the serious legal and moral responsibilities individuals hold, especially when their actions lead to widespread destruction and loss of life.

The restitution ordered by the court, although substantial, underscores the deep impact of the El Dorado fire on the community, victims’ families, and local ecosystems.

This incident further emphasizes the need for greater awareness and caution in the planning of events involving pyrotechnics, particularly in areas prone to wildfires.

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