EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — Investigators were set to release new details about the Black Forest Fire on Wednesday afternoon. Back in June, the wildfire killed two people and destroyed 486 homes, making it Colorado’s most destructive.
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.
Victims are hoping the information scheduled to be released by the independent investigators Wednesday will bring some measure of closure, which has been hard to come by.
“We just need an answer,” one resident said. “Even if the answer is, ‘I don’t know,’ that’s still an answer.”
It was during that search for answers when the dispute between Maketa and Harvey went public.
“I don’t think anybody in the Black Forest area is surprised that this (fire) was human caused and probably intentional,” Harvey initially said when pressed for answers.
Harvey’s response upset Maketa, especially the notion that the fire might have been intentionally caused.
“We know (the fire) was human caused,” Maketa said. “But to make the leap that it was deliberately set, you have to have overwhelming evidence.”
Harvey has mostly ignored Maketa’s criticism, focusing his comments on the arson suspect, saying “the worst thing is that this person is still out there.”
Two independent investigators hired by the Black Forest Board have looked into allegations made by Maketa, accusing Harvey of not turning over command of the fire fight fast enough, thus delaying an influx of resources.
The sheriff’s office and the fire board have released two conflicting timelines of what happened during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire — something the independent board said it would examine.
In a statement, FOX31 Denver has been told that more than 200 hours of field work has gone into the independent investigation. Ahead of the scheduled press conference by the investigators Wednesday, Maketa issued a statement saying his team’s continued investigation into the Black Forest Fire would “only stand by facts and evidence” and not “assumption or theories” posed by others.