Couple whose gender-reveal mishap sparked deadly El Dorado Fire sentenced after plea deal

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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) — A couple whose botched gender reveal sparked the deadly El Dorado Fire in 2020 has agreed to a plea deal that includes jail time, community service and nearly $1.8 million in restitution, officials announced Friday.

The El Dorado Fire burned through nearly 23,000 acres in the Inland Empire in the fall of 2020, destroying some 20 buildings and leading to the death of one firefighter.

Investigators determined the fire was sparked on Sept. 5 when Refugio Manuel Jimenez, Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez set off a smoke bomb as part of a gender-reveal photoshoot that accidentally lit nearby grass at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa.

The video above is our 2021 report from when charges were filed against the couple.

The couple tried to put out the flames with bottled water and called 911. But with hot, dry conditions and inaccessible terrain, the fire spread quickly and took more than two months to get under control.

It was one of thousands of blazes across the state that year in a record-breaking wildfire season.

On Sept. 17, Charles Morton – a firefighter for 18 years – died as the flames overran a remote area.

‘He’s loved and will be missed’ – firefighter who died battling El Dorado Fire identified

The firefighter who died while battling the El Dorado Fire in the Inland Empire has now been identified as Charles Morton, who fought fires for 18 years.

When initially charged in 2021, the couple faced some 30 felony counts involving 22 victims, including people who were injured or lost property to the fire. They could have faced a maximum of nearly two decades behind bars if convicted on all counts.

On Friday, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office announced a deal had been reached with the Jimenezes.

Refugio pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure. He was was sentenced to two years felony probation, 365 days in county jail and 200 hours of community service. His sentence starts Feb. 23.

Angelina pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts for recklessly causing fire to property of another. She was sentenced to one year summary probation, and 400 hours of community service.

They are also ordered to pay victims’ restitution of $1,789,972.

RELATED: El Dorado Fire near Yucaipa sparked by pyrotechnic device at gender reveal party, officials say

A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used during a gender reveal party sparked the El Dorado Fire burning near Yucaipa, which has charred more than 7,000 acres, officials say.

District Attorney Jason Anderson released a statement which read in part:

“Resolving the case was never going to be a win. 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.”

“Today’s resolution came after nearly four years of investigation and litigation, while seeking input from the victims as to an agreement of their restitution and the most just and appropriate punitive action.”

“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.”

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