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Couple whose gender reveal party inadvertently started deadly El Dorado fire accept plea deals

A firefighter watches as the El Dorado fire burns near the intersection of Highway 38 and Valley of the Falls Drive just west of Forest Falls Wednesday evening, Sept. 9, 2020. (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
A firefighter watches as the El Dorado fire burns near the intersection of Highway 38 and Valley of the Falls Drive just west of Forest Falls Wednesday evening, Sept. 9, 2020. (File photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
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San Bernardino County prosecutors announced plea deals Friday with a couple whose actions during a gender reveal party in September 2020 helped to accidentally ignite a wildfire at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa that ultimately grew to more than 20,000 acres and killed a veteran firefighter, who perished while battling the blaze.

Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. pleaded guilty to a felony involuntary manslaughter count for the death of firefighter Charlie Morton and two felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. He has been sentenced to two years of felony probation, one year in county jail, and 200 hours of community service.

Morton, a Forest Service firefighter on a Big Bear hotshot team, died after he became trapped against a wall of flames in the El Dorado fire.

Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire on another person’s property. She was sentenced to a year of probation and 400 hours of community service.

The Jimenez’s also have been ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office.

The couple was charged in 2021. They both pleaded not guilty, and requested that all charges be dismissed. One charge was dismissed in January.

“Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in a press release. “The Defendants’ reckless conduct had tremendous impact on land, properties, emergency response resources, the displacement of  entire communities, and resulted in the tragic death of Forest Service Wildland Firefighter Charles Morton. All these factors were given an extraordinary amount of consideration throughout every step of investigation, the Grand Jury process, and court proceedings.”

Residents of Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, Angelus Oaks, Seven Oaks, Barton Flats and Oak Glen were among those evacuated. The fire also burned in Cherry Valley in Riverside County. The fire burned 22,680 acres, destroyed five homes and damaged four others.

In addition to the criminal charges, the couple also faced a lawsuit from the U.S. Forest Service over the illegal fireworks that allegedly started the fire.

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