Father in sex scandal that sparked deadly 2020 California wildfire pleads guilty
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) – A man whose family’s gender reveal ceremony sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter in 2020 has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, officials said. charge Friday.
The El Dorado fire started on September 5, 2020, when Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Jimenez and their young children held a baby sex show at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.
A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to extinguish the flames and called 911, authorities said.
Strong winds stopped the fire as it raced through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Interagency Big Bear Hotshot Team, was killed on September 17, 2020, when flames overtook a remote area where firefighters were cutting a firebreak. Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the US Forest Service.
On Friday, the San Bernardino County District Attorney announced that Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure. He will be arrested on February 23 for a year in prison. His sentence also includes two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire on another person’s property. She was sentenced to one year of short probation and 400 hours of community service. The couple was also ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution.
Their lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
“The resolution of the case was not going to be a win,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a press release, offering condolences to the Morton family. “Intangible things cannot be replaced.”
the fire injured 13 other people and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. It destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings.
Flames blackened nearly 36 square miles (92 square kilometers) of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before the fire was contained on November 16, 2020.
The fire was one of thousands in a wildfire season in California that burned more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make extreme weather and wildfires more frequent and destructive.