The father involved in the gender reveal that sparked deadly 2020 California wildfires has pleaded guilty

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A man reveals his family’s gender for a photo shoot Wildfires sparked in Southern California A man who killed a firefighter in 2020 has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, prosecutors said Friday.

The El Dorado Fire broke out on September 5, 2020, when Refugio Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Jimenez and their young children They organized a gender reveal photo shoot for their baby 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 set fire to dry grass on a hot day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to put out the flames and called 911, authorities said.

Strong winds fanned the flames as they passed through the wilderness on national forest lands, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader A member of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad was killed Sept. 17, 2020, when flames tore through a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks. Morton worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the U.S. Forest Service.

Refugio Jimenez Jr. has pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing a fire in an occupied structure, the San Bernardino County District Attorney announced Friday. He will be detained on February 23 to spend a year in prison. His sentence also includes two years of criminal probation and 200 hours of community service.

Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly setting fire to another person’s property. She was sentenced to one year of probation and 400 hours of community service. The couple was also ordered to pay $1,789,972 in restitution.

“Resolving the case has never been a win,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a news release, offering his condolences to the Morton family. “To the victims who have lost so much, including their prized possessions and memories, we realize that these intangibles can never be replaced.”

The U.S. Forest Service in September — on the third anniversary of the fire — filed a lawsuit against manufacturers, distributors and sellers of the pyrotechnic devices, as well as the couple. The lawsuit alleges that the “smoke bombs” used were illegal in California and known to be defective.

Mike Scafidi, Refugio Jimenez Jr.’s attorney, said the couple wanted to speak publicly about the fire, its impact on the community and Morton’s death, but couldn’t because of ongoing federal lawsuits.

“They have been praying for Mr. Morton and his family every night since his death. It has touched them deeply,” Scafidi told The Associated Press on Sunday.

The lawyer said that his client researched and tested the pyrotechnic device before detonating it that day, and did not find any problems online or during testing.

“It was unexpected in all minds,” he said.

The couple, contrary to what has been said publicly for years, did not host a gender reveal party, Scafidi said. He said it was a photo session to discover the baby’s gender with the couple, some relatives and their children.

“The inference that it was a gathering of several people with food and celebration is simply not true,” he said. “This was just taking photographs against a beautiful background.”

Angelina Jimenez’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The fire injured 13 other people It forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. Five homes and 15 other buildings were destroyed.

The fire burned 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 blaze was one of thousands during California’s unprecedented wildfire season that charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 structures and killing 33 people.

Extremely dry conditions and heat waves associated with climate change have resulted Forest fires are harder to fight. Climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years, and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

(tags for translation) Charles Morton

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