El Dorado Fire couple finally sentenced

The couple who ignited the huge 2020 El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County, California by exploding a pyrotechnic device during a “gender-reveal party” was sentenced Friday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots
Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots

The couple accidentally started the 22,000-acre fire on a scorching hot day in a park in southern California with a device that was supposed to blow either blue or pink smoke. The fire killed USFS firefighter Charlie Morton, a squad boss with the Big Bear Hotshots, injured two other firefighters and 13 civilians, destroyed five homes, and forced hundreds of people to evacuate ahead of the fire.

The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office said Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. was sentenced to a year in county jail and two years of felony probation, plus community service — after he pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter (in Morton’s death) plus two felony counts of recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure.

USA Today reported that besides jail time, Jimenez will owe 200 hours of community service and will also serve two years of felony probation.

“Resolving the case was never going to be a win,” San Bernardino County district attorney Jason Anderson said. “The Defendants’ reckless conduct had tremendous impact on land, properties, emergency response resources, and the displacement of entire communities — and resulted in the tragic death of Forest Service Wildland Firefighter Charles Morton.”

Angelina Jimenez pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of recklessly causing a fire to another’s property; she was sentenced to a year’s probation and community service. The Jimenezes were ordered to pay victim  restitution of $1,789,972.

Charlie Morton hired on with the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007 and worked on both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts, for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots, Engine 31, Engine 19, and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots. “Charlie is survived by his wife and daughter, his parents, two brothers, cousins, and friends,” wrote his family at that time. “He’s loved and will be missed. May he rest easy in heaven.”

A note from the Chief’s Office at the time said, “The loss of an employee in the line of duty is one of the hardest things we face in our Forest Service family. Our hearts go out to Charlie’s coworkers, friends and loved ones. Charlie was a well-respected firefighter and leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times.”

RIP Charlie and all his brothers.

The couple who ignited the huge 2020 El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County, California by exploding a pyrotechnic device during a “gender-reveal party” was sentenced Friday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Charlie Morton, Big Bear Hotshots
The couple accidentally started the 22,000-acre fire on a scorching hot day in a park in southern California with a device that was supposed to blow either blue or pink smoke. The fire killed USFS firefighter Charlie Morton, a squad boss with the Big Bear Hotshots,

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6 thoughts on “El Dorado Fire couple finally sentenced”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, there was also a coworker on Charlie’s crew who found Charlie’s body. He never showed up for the debriefing and has never been located as far as I know. Making a terrible situation even worse. The loss to the Forest, I can’t really put words to it. Seems like a weak sentence for what was lost.

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    1. Another Big Bear crewmember disappeared under unknown circumstances. Carlos Alexander Baltazar’s car was found abandoned on Highway 18 by CHP three days after Charlie was burned over. His sister said in the car was his ID, a money clip, and a knife. He still had not been found after 10 days of searches in the area.
      The sheriff said Baltazar was was off duty when he abandoned his vehicle and was not in the area of the El Dorado Fire. His family said he was distressed over Morton’s death; more [HERE].

      Further reports on the fire were released two years later.

      p.s. I checked with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office today and their detectives have followed up on every single lead or tip they got about any possible location on Baltazar, and they have no new information. I asked that they alert us if they have anything at all.

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  2. Tough situation to be in. In the end the family was completely irresponsible with using pyrotechnics in extreme fire weather conditions.

    That said I believe the fire was 100% accidental. Handcrew supervisors have no shortage of ego over caution and unfortunately this death will be just another 6 minutes for safety that will be forgotten about.

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  3. “Accidental” to me implies that they had better lawyers. But I am no expert. Just seems as if it is a light sentence considering the death and destruction left behind. And perhaps not a huge deterrent to others thinking of having their own gender reveal pyrotechnic celebrations. One question that comes to my mind is how they will explain it to their child?

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  4. “Accidental”? They intentionally set off a pyrotechnic device during a period of high fire danger which resulted in the El Dorado fire and the loss of a firefighter’s life. Calling it an accident is a very nice way of saying their thoughtless, intentional act demonstrated gross negligence on their parts which resulted in a massive wildfire.

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What do you think?