Manslaughter charge continues against couple in El Dorado Fire

The case against a couple accused of starting the 2020 El Dorado Fire with a gender-reveal device will move forward after one of four felony counts was dropped by a Superior Court judge in San Bernardino, California.

As reported by Brian Rokos of the Southern California News Group, one of four property-damage felony charges against Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and wife Angelina Renee Jimenez was dismissed; a felony involuntary manslaughter charge remains along with three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury and and three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.

El Dorado Fire
El Dorado Fire, photo by Jeff Zimmerman Sept. 5, 2020.

Attorneys for the Jimenezes argued that the fire was accidentally ignited by the smoky gender-reveal device and sought dismissal of the manslaughter charge. Rokos reported that the deputy county attorney argued that “the Jimenezes should have known better than to set off the smoky device on a 103-degree day with low humidity in a park containing extremely dry brush.”

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the Jimenezes could be sentenced to four years in prison. They are currently on leave from their jobs as California correctional officers.

Prior coverage in Wildfire Today of the “Narrative” and related reports on the fatality of a squad leader on the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew highlighted the increasing risks and complicated processes in a comprehensive analyses. Charles ‘Charlie’ Morton died as he was scouting the fire alone on September 17, 2020 when it overran his location.

Excerpts from the reports included:

“In his September 24, 2020 testimony before Congress, John Phipps, the Forest Service’s Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, stated “the system is not designed for this,” to illustrate the misalignment between the design of the wildland fire system and the reality that wildland fire responders routinely experience.”

“We continue to ask our wildland fire responders to save communities that are becoming increasingly unsavable. At what point do we declare communities without any semblance of defensible space not worth the risk of trying to save under extreme fire behavior conditions?”

As Bill Gabbert wrote about the reports on their release, they were notable for their in-depth compilation of lessons as well as the suggestion “that perhaps firefighters (or forestry technicians) should be called ‘fire responders’ so they don’t ‘view fire as an enemy.’ Other than that many of their conclusions are very reasonable, even though most of them have been previously identified in various forms. But having so many of them listed in one fatality report is unique, and could be useful. Unless it just disappears into files like so many others.”

One lesson is being applied – to streamline Type 1 and Type 2 team classifications. Other lessons – such as identifying the risk of scouting and implementing tracking devices and drones – are not moving ahead as quickly.

Gender reveal party that started El Dorado Fire leads to charges for involuntary manslaughter

A wildland firefighter was killed in 2020 while working on the fire that burned more than 22,000 acres in Southern California

El Dorado Fire
El Dorado Fire, photo by Jeff Zimmerman Sept. 5, 2020.

The couple that used a smoke bomb to indicate the gender of their unborn child has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and 29 other crimes, law enforcement officials announced Tuesday.

Investigators found that the El Dorado Fire  was started by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party at a park in Yucaipa, California September 5, 2020. A firefighter was killed on the fire that burned more than 22,000 acres and required the expenditure of nearly $40 million in suppression costs.

Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez pleaded not guilty Tuesday, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference.

The couple was 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 fire to property.

The judge released them on their own recognizance even though the prosecutor recommended they each be held on $50,000 bail.

Mr. Anderson said the couple could receive sentences ranging in years from  the low teens to the low twenties.

Charles Morton
Charles Morton, USFS photo.

The U.S. Forest Service reported that Charles Morton, a 14-year veteran  firefighter, died September 17, 2020 as he was burned over while battling the El Dorado Fire.

Mr. Morton was a squad boss on the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Crew.

Another Big Bear crewmember disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the days following the death of Mr. Morton. Carlos Alexander Baltazar’s car was found abandoned on Highway 18 near Delta Avenue by the California Highway Patrol on September 20, about 75 yards from his backpack. He was reported missing by his family on September 24. His sister said on the driver’s seat was his ID, a money clip with $200, and on the passenger seat was a knife. His family said he was upset over the death of Mr. Morton, who they described as “his boss.”

As far as we can tell, Mr. Baltazar still has not been found.Carlos Alexander Baltazar

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to the folks who reported this story to us.

The 7,000-acre El Dorado Fire was started by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party

Gender Reveal Halltoons
@halltoons. Used with permission.

Another large wildfire has been started by a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party. CAL FIRE determined that the El Dorado Fire which has burned over 7,000 acres near a heavily populated area of San Bernardino County in southern California was started by the use of a smoke generating pyrotechnic device. The intent was to produce pink or blue smoke to inform bystanders (waiting breathlessly nearby) about the gender of a fetus.

The fire began at 10:23 a.m. on September 5, 2020 in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa. It spread from the park north to Yucaipa Ridge which separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa.

At least two other gender reveal parties that used pyrotechnic devices have started wildfires in recent years.

The 46,000-acre Sawmill Fire southeast of Tucson, Arizona was ignited in 2017 by an off-duty Border Patrol agent. He mixed colored powder into a Tannerite exploding target which would show blue or pink smoke when shot with a rifle, according to his attorney, Sean Chapman. The target exploded as planned and started what became the Sawmill Fire. A witness helpfully recorded a video of the explosion.

In 2020 a gender reveal party in Florida went wrong and sparked a 10-acre fire, also caused by a Tannerite exploding target.

El Dorado Fire
El Dorado Fire, photo by Jeff Zimmerman Sept. 5, 2020.

Explosive target at gender reveal party turns into 10-acre wildfire

Sawmill Fire
File photo of the Sawmill Fire in Arizona, early in the morning on April 24, 2017. It was caused by an exploding target. Photo by Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

From CNN, April 4, 2020:

A gender reveal party in Florida went wrong and sparked a 10-acre fire, CNN affiliate WESH reported. Firefighters were called to a home in Brevard County, Florida, last weekend after reports that a blaze was possibly ignited by fireworks, fire officials said. But when they arrived, firefighters realized some explosives had been in the mix.

“We were informed that it was caused by a gender reveal using Tannerite and a weapon,” Brevard County Fire Rescue Chief Mark Schollmeyer told WESH. Tannerite is a highly explosive substance often used as a rifle target.

The county had been under a burn ban, including outdoor activities such as campfires, bonfires and trash burning, because of the dry conditions in the region. The order comes with a fine of up to $500. It’s unclear whether anyone faced a fine.

A gender reveal party in Arizona in 2017 ignited the 46,000-acre Sawmill Fire when an off-duty Border Patrol agent shot a Tannerite explosive target. The agent pleaded guilty and was ordered to make an initial payment of $100,000, then make monthly payments after that. According to the Arizona Daily Star and the Green Valley News, he agreed in court to pay $500 a month for the next 20 years, which adds up to $120,000, for a total of $220,000. He was also sentenced to 5 years of probation and agreed to participate in a public service announcement with the U.S. Forest Service concerning the cause of the Sawmill fire.

Exploding targets consist of two ingredients that when mixed by the end user explode when shot by a high-velocity projectile.  After the ingredients are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Exploding targets have caused many fires since they became more popular in recent years, have been banned in some areas, and caused the death of at least one person.