by Pam Zubeck
Black Forest, CO – The Board of Directors of the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District has moved quickly to engage the services of a law enforcement professional to conduct an internal investigation into events surrounding the disastrous Black Forest fire that erupted on June 11 of this year.
Board members have commissioned retired Greenwood Village Police commander Dave Fisher to direct the inquiry. Fisher retired in October after a 29-year career at the suburban Denver department, rising from patrol officer to detective commander and earlier, patrol commander. Fisher will be assisted by Dave Daley, an operations executive officer at South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial.
The Board’s action follows a controversy between Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey and El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa over management of the fire response during the early stages of the fire.
“We support our chief and his decision making. We believe this inquiry is an affirmative step toward determining what transpired that fateful day once and for all,” said board chairman Edward Bracken.
Moreover, in an effort to clarify response times, the Board has verified a sequence of events that indicates the fire was first located at 1:45pm that fateful afternoon. Black Forest and Wescott Fire Districts were on scene at 1:47pm, with Colorado Springs units arriving at 1:51pm. The fire was out of control at 2:18pm erupting into a fire storm with a 200 foot flame front. The state took control of operations at 3:10pm. Scott Campbell, El Paso County’s Deputy Fire Marshal, was appointed the Type 3 Incident Commander at that time. In this capacity he was working for the State, and not for El Paso County. It is this sequence of events that is in dispute, among other issues.
The Board has agreed to refrain from all public comment until Fisher’s inquiry is resolved, and expect this investigation to be completed after the New Year.
Sheriff Terry Maketa was shocked to see recent reports in the local news media where Black Forest Fire Chief Harvey was quoted concerning the active investigation into the cause of the Black Forest Fire. On more than one media source, Chief Harvey was quoted as saying the cause of the fire had been determined to be “intentional”.
Sheriff Maketa offered these comments concerning the inappropriate remarks.
“Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey's unqualified knee jerk claims. "Human caused" has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand. Furthermore, this Chief didn't even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It's an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”