Black Forest Fire report doesn’t quiet criticism about initial wildfire response

DENVER — An independent committee designated with the task of investigating the role the Black Forest Fire Chief played in combating the fire in its early hours has found the chief acted responsibly.

The June wildfire is considered to be the most destructive in Colorado history having destroyed 486 homes and killed two people.

Since then, leads in the investigation into the fire’s cause and the actions of the Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey have been questioned by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

Maketa’s criticism of Harvey began four months ago, with the sheriff claiming that Harvey mishandled the fire fight. After hearing Maketa’s criticism, the Black Forest Fire Board hired independent investigators to look into Harvey’s judgment calls.

Investigator Dave Fisher, who has more than 30 years as a police commander with the Greenwood Village Police Department, said Thursday that “nothing could have been done to stop this fire.”  A summary of Fisher’s investigation has been posted online.

Sheriff Maketa blasted the report saying it leaves some facts about the initial hours of the fire out, and he also says the time line is not accurate in the independent report.

Residents of Black Forest met Wednesday night and the release of the report did nothing to quiet their concerns about the response and fire fighting plan from their fire department.

Fisher said he interviewed fire experts and other fire chiefs about the response to the Black Forest fire.  All of them said that once the fire had crowned around 2:18 p.m., it grew at a rate that was uncontrollable.

More than 200 hours of field work has gone into the independent investigation, which the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Board called a “waste of taxpayer money.”

“We can tell you that the allegations have absolutely done needless harm to our reputation,” the board said in a statement. “We expect the outcome of this investigation will go a long way toward relieving whatever doubts the citizens of Black Forest may have been carrying.”

The report was handed over to the District Attorney’s Office for further review. Fisher said he would not comment on whether or not any criminal activity exists saying he didn’t want to interfere with a DA investigation.

During the news conference Wednesday Harvey said he would not discuss the cause of the fire, which remains an open question.  Harvey has said the fire was likely human caused.

The fire board blasted Maketa for his handling of the situation saying “This misadventure started because one elected official saw fit, for whatever personal or political reason, to make unsubstantiated allegations about our chief’s performance following the onset of the Black Forest Fire.”

The statement was also critical of Colorado Springs media outlets for filing open records requests with the Colorado Open Records Act.  The department said the requests were unnecessary and cost the department $3,000 in legal fees.