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Couple charged in California fire sparked by gender reveal

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — A couple whose gender reveal ceremony sparked a Southern California wildfire that killed a firefighter last year were charged with involuntary manslaughter, authorities announced Tuesday.

The couple pleaded not guilty Monday to charges involving the El Dorado Fire, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson announced at a news conference where he identified them as the Jiminez family.

The charges included one felony count 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 property.

The El Dorado Fire erupted on Sept. 5 when the couple, their young children and someone there to record video staged a baby gender reveal at El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, at the foot of the San Bernardino Mountains.

A smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was set off in a field and quickly ignited dry grass on a scorching day. The couple frantically tried to use bottled water to douse the flames and called 911, authorities said.

Strong winds stoked the fire as it ran through wilderness on national forest land about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

On Sept. 17, flames overran a remote area where firefighters were cutting fire breaks, killing Charles Morton, the 39-year-old leader of the elite Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad.

Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, 14 of them with the U.S. Forest Service.

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

The blaze blackened nearly 36 square miles (92 square kilometers) of land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties before it was contained on Nov. 16.

The fire was one of thousands during a record-breaking wildfire season in California that charred more than 4% of the state while destroying nearly 10,500 buildings and killing 33 people.

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