Monday, June 27

Couple charged with causing El Dorado forest fire indicted

(CNN) — A Southern California couple whose gender reveal party allegedly sparked the deadly El Dorado wildfire in 2020 has been charged with 30 crimes, including manslaughter, authorities announced Tuesday.

A smoke bomb set off by the couple in Yucaipa, California, on Sept. 5 as part of a gender reveal party sparked a fire that burned more than 8,903 acres in two counties, the San Bernardino County district attorney said, Jason Anderson during a press conference.

One firefighter died while fighting the flames and two others were injured, according to Anderson. The fire destroyed several homes and burned more than 8,903 hectares (22,000 acres), his office said.

Cal Fire determined that the cause of the fire was a “smoke generating pyrotechnic device”.

In September 2020, a pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party sparked a Southern California wildfire that destroyed 8,903 hectares (22,000 acres) and forced many residents to flee their homes. More than 500 firefighters and four helicopters were fighting the El Dorado fire east of San Bernardino. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON / AFP via Getty Images)

The couple, who pleaded not guilty during their arraignments Tuesday, were released on their own recognizance until their next scheduled hearing in September, Anderson said.

CNN contacted the couple’s attorney, but received no response.

“Obviously you are dealing with lost lives, you are dealing with injured lives and you are dealing with the residences of people that were burned and their lands that were burned. That encompasses a lot, not just emotion, but damage, both financial and psychological,” Anderson said. at the press conference.

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The charges were filed after a grand jury heard 34 witness interviews over four days, he said.

Ultimately, 434 pieces of evidence were presented to the grand jury, leading to the indictment opened Tuesday, which includes one felony count of involuntary manslaughter, three felony counts of recklessly setting a fire with major injuries. four counts of felony for recklessly setting fire to inhabited structures and 22 counts of misdemeanors for recklessly setting fire to someone else’s property, Anderson said.

The fire “had a tremendous impact on the San Bernardino community,” Anderson said, adding that at least six agencies “were involved in containing, extinguishing and investigating” the deadly fire.

Couple charged in the death of a firefighter

A photograph of Charles Morton, a firefighter who died fighting the El Dorado wildfire, is displayed at a memorial service for Morton on September 25, 2020 in San Bernardino, California. Morton was a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service (Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Firefighter Charles Morton, a Big Bear Interagency Hotshot squad leader, was fighting the El Dorado fire when he died, CNN previously reported.

The 39-year-old “died while participating in firefighting operations,” the US Forest Service said in a news release after his death.

The Hotshots squad are the front-line firefighters who walk straight into the fire on steep terrain to strategically plan the best course of action to deal with the flames.

Morton had worked as a firefighter for 18 years, including 14 years in the Forest Service, according to the statement.

“Charlie was a highly respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew during the most difficult times,” US Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said in the statement. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, co-workers, friends, and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

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Anderson said Tuesday that part of the reason the investigation and final prosecution took so long was because authorities wanted to ensure full justice was served.

“Given the scope and impact of the El Dorado fire on the land and lives of so many people, particularly Charles Morton and his family, it was imperative that all investigations be completed at both federal and state agencies to provide a presentation complete and fair to members of our community, “Anderson explained.

A family manages to escape a fire in a boat 0:52

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