Father jailed for involuntary manslaughter after gender-reveal caused fatal California wildfire

A helicopter prepares to drop water on the wildfire sparked by the gender reveal. Credit: AP

A father, whose family’s gender reveal photo shoot caused a huge Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter in 2020, has been jailed.

Flames erupted across a field, after a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off as Refugio Jimenez Jr and Angelina Jimenez revealed the gender of their unborn child, on September 5, 2020.

They were accompanied by their young children and had a friend or relative videoing the event on a mobile phone at El Dorado Ranch Park, in Yucaipa.

The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to put out the flames and called 911, authorities said.

A hand crew works a fire break along a ridge during the El Dorado Fire along Highway 38 west of Forest Falls. Credit: AP

Strong winds spread the fire as it burned through wilderness on national forest land, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles.

Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed on September 17, 2020, when flames overran a remote area where firefighters were working.

Mr Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with the US Forest Service.

On Friday, the San Bernardino County district attorney announced Refugio Jimenez Junior had pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of recklessly causing a fire to an inhabited structure.

He will be taken into custody on February 23 to serve a year in jail. His sentence also includes two years of felony probation and 200 hours of community service.

Footage shows the moment a 2017 reveal in Arizona goes wrong

The blaze injured 13 other people and forced the evacuations of hundreds of residents in small communities in the San Bernardino National Forest area. It destroyed five homes and 15 other buildings.

“You can’t fight a fire like this with a water bottle,” Captain Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said at the time. “They had no chance after it started.”

Firefighters arrived within minutes and the distraught couple told them what happened and provided their own photos and video to aid the investigation, Mr Milloy said.

File photo shows gender reveal event in the Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona. Credit: AP

“It’s a pretty tragic situation,” he said. “Obviously this was supposed to be a happy event.”

In April 2017, a gender reveal in Arizona sparked a wildfire that caused around £6 million worth of damage and in 2019, an Australian man was convicted after another gender reveal stunt left a car engulfed in flames.

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