Couple Whose Gender Reveal Party Triggered A Catastrophic Forest Fire Now Face Charges

Published July 22, 2021
Updated July 25, 2021

The 2020 "gender reveal party" sparked the El Dorado wildfire which spread over 22,000 acres and killed a firefighter.

El Dorado Wildfire

TwitterA harrowing scene from the El Dorado wildfire in 2020./span>

The young couple wanted to celebrate the birth of their new baby. Instead, their “gender reveal party” birthed a fearsome fire that tore across Southern California. The couple now faces charges for 30 crimes including involuntary manslaughter.

“You’re obviously dealing with lost lives, you’re dealing with injured lives, and you’re dealing with people’s residences that were burned and their land that was burned,” stated San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson during a news conference.

“That encompasses a lot of, not only emotion, but damage, both financially and psychologically.”

As a result of the fire, Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angela Renee Jimenez face charges of involuntary manslaughter, 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 the property of another.

The couple has pleaded not guilty. If charged, they could face up to 20 years in prison.

But they didn’t set out to take life. On the contrary, the Jimenez family initially wanted to celebrate life. They put together a “gender reveal party” on Sept. 5, 2020, to unveil the gender of their new baby.

Gender Reveal Explosion

U.S. Forest ServiceA similar “gender reveal” party sparked the devastating Sawmill Fire in 2017.

Alongside their young children, the Jimenez family set up a gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains. But it quickly went awry. Their “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” — which was meant to burst into pink or blue smoke — instead caught the long, dry grass on fire.

The family desperately tried to douse the fire with water bottles. But it was too late. Strong winds, high heat, and parched grass fed the fire, which rapidly spread across 22,000 acres.

The blaze — dubbed the El Dorado fire — burned for the next two months. As it spread, it consumed five homes and 15 other buildings.

The blaze also injured 13 people and caused hundreds of people to evacuate from their homes. And, on Sept. 17, 2020, it took the life of a firefighter, 39-year-old Charles Morton.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, Morton died while “engaged in fire suppression operations.”

Charles Morton

San Bernardino National Forest/TwitterCharles Morton, who’d been a firefighter for 18 years, died in the El Dorado fire.

Until firefighters defeated the blaze on Nov. 16, California residents could only watch in horror. Officials called the El Dorado wildfire “one of the most dangerous fires” they’d ever seen.

“In my 30 years as a citizen in Yucaipa, I have never seen such a large fire,” said Yucaipa Mayor David Avila at the time. “As a retired firefighter with 32 years of experience, I can assure you I witnessed one of the most dangerous fires that we can have in this area.”

To make matters even worse, the El Dorado fire burned alongside 23 other fires in California. As those blazes scorched a full four percent of the state, they destroyed nearly 10,500 buildings and killed 33 people.

El Dorado Fire Aftermath

TwitterScorched earth left in the wake of the El Dorado fire.

Tragically, such devastating fires are becoming the new normal in states like California. That’s because climate change doesn’t only cause dry conditions — it can also trigger extreme weather like high winds. Huge, rapidly spreading fires are much harder to fight using traditional techniques.

But perhaps the most devastating part about the El Dorado fire is that it didn’t have to happen. Some things are out of people’s control — lightning strikes, for example, frequently spark destructive wildfires. However, the El Dorado fire was caused by a gender reveal party — and a lack of caution and consideration.

In fact, it’s not even the first gender reveal party to turn deadly. In February 2021, a man in New York died while building a gender reveal explosive device. And a similar gender reveal explosive triggered the Sawmill Fire, which consumed 46,000 acres and racked up costs of $8.2 million.

So far, the Jiminez family has offered no comment on what happened.

“I can’t speak on their behalf,” said Capt. Bennet Milloy, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, on Sept. 7, 2020, “but personally, I can only imagine how terrible they have to feel for a lot of reasons.”

The couple will return to court on Sept. 15.

After reading about the couple facing charges for their wildfire-sparking-gender-reveal, learn about the man who caused a wildfire by burning books in Florida. Or, looking through these shocking photos of fire tornadoes.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Erik Hawkins
Erik Hawkins studied English and film at Keene State College in NH and has taught English as a Second Language stateside and in South America. He has done award-winning work as a reporter and editor on crime, local government, and national politics for almost 10 years, and most recently produced true crime content for NBC's Oxygen network.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Couple Whose Gender Reveal Party Triggered A Catastrophic Forest Fire Now Face Charges.", July 22, 2021, Accessed May 21, 2024.