Couple face manslaughter charges for gender reveal that sparked wildfire

A couple in California have pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, after a firefighter died in a blaze which began at their gender reveal party last year.

The fire erupted on 5 September when their smoke-generating pyrotechnic device malfunctioned and ignited dry grass at El Dorado Ranch Park, located at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Spreading over a large part of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the flames overwhelmed a group of firefighters who were constructing fire breaks on 17 September. Charles Morton, 39, who had spent most of his career working for the US Forest Service, died in the conflagration.

Earlier this week, Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty to charges relating to Morton’s death and the destruction caused by the fire.

The pair had tried in vain to put out the flames with bottled water and contacted the emergency services, the authorities said.

However, the fire service was unable to prevent the flames from ripping through national forest land, 75 miles to the east of Los Angeles.

The blaze was finally contained on 16 November, after it had raged across a 36-square-mile area, injuring 13 people and destroying five homes and 15 other buildings.

It was just one of thousands of other fires which swept through California in 2020, burning more than 4 per cent of the state and killing 33 people.

The couple connected to the El Dorado fire were released on bail and will appear in court later this year.

The incident is not the only time a gender-reveal stunt has sparked a devastating fire. In April 2017, a dad-to-be in Arizona fired a shot at a blue explosive to announce that he and his partner were expecting a boy. The resulting fire tore through 47,000 acres and caused $8 million (£5.9 million) of damage.

Additional reporting by AP

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