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Couple behind 22,000+ acre wildfire started by gender reveal party indicted

The San Bernardino County District Attorney announced the couple who started the 22,000+ acre El Dorado Fire with a gender reveal party have been indicted by a grand jury on multiple charges.

DA Jason Anderson announced that Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez were indicted on 30 charges including, one count of involuntary manslaughter related to the death of a firefighter battling the flames.

The couple were also charged with three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures and 22 misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to property of another.

They were arraigned in court on Monday and both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Anderson said the DA's office recommended a bail of $50,000 for the couple, however, the judge released them on their own recognizance. The couple are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 15.

The El Dorado Fire started on September 5, 2020 at the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. Cal Fire investigators said the fire was started by a "smoke-generating pyrotechnic device" used at a botched gender reveal party.

"They lit that device. It produced smoke, which ignited the season grasses that was immediately adjacent. That grass immediately spread across to Yucaipa Ridge and then eventually to Oak Glen," CalFire Capt. Bennet Milloy told News Channel 3 back in September.

The fire went on to burn 22,744-acres over 23 days, forcing multiple communities to evacuate. The fire took the life of Charles Morton, 39, a 14-year veteran firefighter with the San Bernardino National Forest.

13 other firefighters were injured as well.

Milloy said the family attempted to put the fire out after it sparked, but it was too late.

"Even though it’s accidental, it could be considered as 'reckless.' In California if it is deemed 'reckless' they could be found criminally liable for burning the wild lands, the homes, the vehicles that were burned during that. CalFire is not looking at this at the moment but they could be civilly responsible for the suppression costs after the fire," Capt. Bennet said.

MORE: How family responsible for El Dorado Fire could face criminal charges

Officials have never disclosed whether the family has been charged or not but Bennet did mention back in September 2020 that potential charges won't be determined until the fire is out and after the DA's office investigates it.

The DA's office began reviewing evidence in this case in January 2021. The DA's office reported that they received the completed investigative reports from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department

"The deputy district attorneys assigned to the case will begin reviewing these reports, as well as the investigative reports from CalFire, and a review of all other reports and evidence," reads a notice from the DA's office.

Stat with News Channel 3 for continuing updates.

Download the News Channel 3 app on the Apple Store or Google Play to be alerted on updates in this case.

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Jesus Reyes

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