As the Black Forest Fire was unfolding last June, we kept waiting for Black Forest Fire/Rescue Chief Bob Harvey to show up at one of the news briefings. Why? Because we'd heard there was a dispute over how quickly or slowly he had relinquished command of the fire to El Paso County, which in turn delegated authority to the state.
Three days after the blaze ignited, on June 14, Harvey attended the news briefing and said a few words. Afterward, we had a one-on-one interview with him about the early hours of the fire.
This might be the only interview of its kind that took place during that time, so we've decided to share that interview, which runs about 11 minutes.
We're also posting it here in light of the dust-up that's arisen between Harvey and Sheriff Terry Maketa over exactly when the county got control of the fire, which killed two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes. It should be noted that after the state assumed command, state officials hired the county's Deputy Fire Marshal Scott Campbell to manage the fire until the requested Type 1 Team arrived. The Type 1 Team worked for the state, because the fire wasn't on federal lands.
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It's also worth noting that during an hour-long interview with Campbell conducted by the Independent on June 21, Campbell never suggested that Harvey didn't relinquish control soon enough. Rather, he discussed firefighting strategy, use of military resources and how wildland fires move in high winds.
When asked specifically about the Black Forest Fire Department's delegation of authority, he said, "It was delegated, um, but I can't tell you off the top of my head what time it was. It's a formality, something that has to happen, but by default we were doing things because we knew where this [fire] was going. There was never a question in my mind when I saw the column from town that it was going. We weren't gonna catch this one."
So everyone was on the same page?
Campbell: "Yes. The fact we gotta get people out of the way.... We can't catch this with the stuff [resources] we normally have."
In fact, Campbell said in the interview it was a Wescott Fire Protection District firefighter who first contacted the Pueblo Dispatch Center seeking aircraft support at 13:51, or 1:51 p.m., on June 11. Pueblo reported there was none available, so air support ultimately came from Fort Carson that evening and Peterson Air Force Base the following day.
Campbell said rural fire departments that responded first — Wescott, Tri-Lakes and Black Forest — performed as expected. "The structure guys did everything they were trained to do," he said.