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Couple charged with manslaughter in deadly California blaze sparked by gender reveal

The 22,000-acre fire killed firefighter Charles Morton last September.
Credit: AP
In this Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, file photo, a burned structure is seen at a wildfire in Yucaipa, Calif. A couple’s plan to reveal their baby’s gender at a party went up in smoke Saturday at El Rancho Dorado Park in Yucaipa, when a pyrotechnical device they used sparked a wildfire that has burned thousands of acres. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

CALIFORNIA, USA — A couple whose gender reveal ceremony sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter last year have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, it was revealed Tuesday according to a report by the Associated Press

The San Bernardino County district attorney said Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire which started Sept. 5, 2020 and burned over 22,000 acres. 

The fire killed 39-year-old firefighter Charles Morton - who was a native of San Diego - last September. Morton was a Squad Boss for the San Bernardino National Forest's Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew and had spent 14 years with the Forest Service. 

Morton was survived by his wife and daughter, SBNF said in a statement following his death. 

Authorities say the Jimenez family set off a smoke-generating pyrotechnic in dry grass at El Dorado Ranch Park near Yucaipa, east of Los Angeles. 

They were accompanied by their young children and had a friend or relative videoing on a cell phone, Capt. Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told the AP last year. 

The family went into a field and fired off the device, which quickly ignited 4-foot grasses, Milloy said. Conditions were perfect for a fire to spread quickly — triple-digit temperatures, low humidity, dry vegetation and a stiff breeze. 

The blaze injured 13 other people and forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents. It destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings.

WATCH RELATED: Funeral held for San Diego native, firefighter who died battling the El Dorado Fire