Couple Indicted For Pyrotechnic Ignition Of El Dorado Fire

A specially-called criminal grand jury looking into the actions of a couple who threw a so-called gender-reveal party last September at which a pyrotechnic device touched off a fire that raged out of control and thereafter killed a firefighter and scorched 22,680 acres has indicted the pair on a total of 30 charges.
In the indictment unsealed on Tuesday, July 20, Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez are charged with a single count of involuntary manslaughter, three felony counts of recklessly causing a fire resulting in great bodily injury, four felony counts of recklessly causing a fire to inhabited structures and 22 misdemeanor counts of Penal Code Section 452, recklessly causing a fire to private property.
What became known as the El Dorado Fire was sparked September 5, 2020 at approximately 10:23 a.m. when the Jiminezes used a pyrotechnic device, referred to as a “smoke cannon” intended to release either blue or pink smoke to reveal the gender of a baby Angelina Jimenez was carrying, lit dry grass beneath it. The couple had invited a number of friends and extended family members to El Dorado Park in Yucaipa to the event.
A surveillance video from a camera at the park depicts several people, a number of them children, walking onto the grass at the edge of the park. An adult male is seen in the video lighting the device. Shortly thereafter, the dry grass and vegetation near the device is seen to ignite, and the video shows individuals scurrying in a futile effort at dousing the flames with water from water bottles. At the time the fire initiated, the temperature in Yucaipa had already reached 90 degrees, and would attain 110 later that afternoon.
The fire spread from the park to the north onto Yucaipa Ridge that separates Mountain Home Village and Forest Falls from the City of Yucaipa. After initially burning northward early on September 5, the fire circled back as it was pushed by inconsistently-directed winds, first pushing east, then northward, taking at one point a substantial westwardly shift on the evening of Saturday, September 5, and on Sunday, September 6 moving south. The fire thus spread in four different directions.
Over 23 days, the fire consumed 22,680 acres in the Oak Glen/Yucaipa Ridge area and within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the San Bernardino National Forest. Firefighting efforts, directed from from a command post established at Yucaipa Regional Park and involving 1,351 personnel, did manage to prevent the fire from moving into populated areas. As such, the conflagration raged into the area’s rustic canyons and, ultimately, the heavily wooded National Forest. Twenty mostly isolated structures, five of them homes, were burnt to the ground. Another four residences were significantly damaged.
On the twelfth day of the effort to control the fire, September 17, Charles Morton, a specialized “hot shot” fire suppression team commander with 14 years experience as a firefighter, was killed.
Hot shot crews are highly mobile and specially-skilled hand crews intended to be flexible with the migration of a fire, and are trained, conditioned, equipped and qualified to be utilized in combating wildland fires. Hotshots are often employed in using shovels and other tools in seeking to reroute the direction of a fire’s progression, often on very difficult terrain at locations remote from the main body of firefighters in a given area. The crews function without water or hoses. At sometime around 10 p.m. in the evening of September 17, while he was with others “engaged in fire suppression operations,” a windshift resulted in flames overrunning Morton.
Another 13 firefighters were injured throughout the El Dorado Fire ordeal.
The fire, which required 60 miles of fire lines to suppress and ranged from a minimum elevation of 3,030 feet to a maximum of 10,640 feet, forced the evacuations of Oak Glen, north Yucaipa, Mountain Home Village, Forest Falls, and Angelus Oaks.
The firefighting effort was manpower intensive and extremely costly. The 1,351 firefighters involved included those functioning under two interagency incident management teams rotated into place throughout the operation, those being California Interagency Management Team 11, supervised by Commander Chris Fogle, and California Interagency Management Team 13, led by Incident Commander Mike Wakoski. There were 17 hand crews working the fire lines, 177 fire engines, 20 water tenders, 17 bulldozers, and 10 helicopters. Numerous fixed-wing tankers were brought to bear in the effort, including a DC-10, which engaged in aerial fire-retardant drops. Three Canadian Fire Bosses and a single-engine air tanker water scooper, operating from a base at Big Bear Airport & Lake, were also used for the first time in Southern California in the effort against the El Dorado conflagration.
The fire was not considered maintained until September 29.
The indictments of Refugio Manuel Jimenez Jr. and Angelina Renee Jimenez were handed down after the grand jury heard from 34 witnesses during four days of testimony and reviewed 434 exhibits.
On July 20, both Refugio Jimenez or Angelina Jimenez, who were not in custody, were arraigned in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Colin Bilash. Both entered not guilty pleas. They are being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Lisa Crane and Jill Gregory.
Refugio Jimenez is being represented by Michael Scafiddi.
Angelina Jimenez is being represented by Steven Mitchell.
Both defendants agreed to extend their preliminary hearing date to November 16.
-Mark Gutglueck

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