UPDATE: Investigator hired to probe fire response


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This photo was taken within the first day or so of the Black Forest Fire igniting. - STEVE AND MARY SNYDER
  • Steve and Mary Snyder
  • This photo was taken within the first day or so of the Black Forest Fire igniting.

UPDATE: Earlier, we asked Sheriff Terry Maketa a couple of questions about the Black Forest Fire initial response investigation. We're happy to report Maketa got back with the following comments:

Q. Will you cooperate with this investigation?
A.  The Chair of the BFF board said they were hiring an investigator to "clear" Harvey. That sounds predetermined of what outcome they hope to buy. I will share any information that has been released to the public or media and that will not interfere in anyway with the fire investigation.
Q. What did you think of the news release that came out today about the investigation from the fire district?
A. In the press release they issued, their times are off. He [Harvey] couldn't delegate the fire to the state unless it went through me first. It's how the law is written. And then only I can delegate it to the state. But getting back to my point concerning times, in their press release they say he lost control around 2:18 and that I agree with, and from what I'm seeing he lost it closer to 2:00 but regardless, why did he wait until 3:10? And 3:10 is not true and I have paperwork to show that isn't true. What I do have is proof he never requested air support.

———————————————ORIGINAL POST: DEC. 10, 2013, 1:33 P.M.————————————

Investigators are at work trying to figure out if Black Forest Fire/Rescue Chief Bob Harvey flubbed the handling of the fire when it first ignited.

The fire district issued this statement late this morning:

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. 

As we report in tomorrow's paper, the investigation is being handled by a retired police commander from the Denver area.

The brouhaha stems from Sheriff Terry Maketa accusing Harvey of bungling the initial response. Here's the statement Maketa released on Nov. 21 that started the flap:

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.”


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