EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — A new report released Friday has some startling information about what went on during the height of the Black Forest fire last June. And the El Paso County Sheriff is steaming mad about it, calling it “garbage.”
The fire killed two people and burned almost 500 homes, making it the most destructive in terms of homes lost in Colorado history.
The report is more than 2,000 pages long. It was written by an independent investigator hired by the Black Forest Fire District board.
One of the findings in it says some firefighters may have been ordered to risk their lives in order to save the home of an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office commander.
Investigator Dave Fisher, a retired Greenwood Village Police commander, says those four firefighters were nearly killed fighting the flames. They were ordered back into the same area on a “secret special assignment” and ordered not to mention the person’s name or address on the emergency communications radio.
This happened during the first night of the fire.
The report says the firefighters tried to refuse, but were ordered to continue.
Fisher wrote that the special assignment was to protect the home of Robert McDonald, acting commander of emergency services for El Paso County.
“It is not appropriate to take public firefighting equipment and place it on one particular address when those pieces of equipment could and likely would have been utilized to protect and defend other structures,” Fisher says.
“Ordering firefighters to go and protect one home after they had just nearly lost their lives is reckless and irresponsible. Protecting a public official’s home at the expense of other residences is poor decision making at best.”
Sheriff Maketa called a press conference Friday afternoon where he angrily blasted the report and said there were no orders to protect any official’s home.
“Mr. McDonald I apologize that you have been treated the way you have by this community. It’s unfortunate. And I sure hope Mr. Fisher will provide names, dates and times to the garbage that’s in this book. And I’ll tell you what, the public deserves it,” Maketa said.
Maketa also said crews were sent to the area near McDonald’s home and they did what any fire crew would do. They picked a home to battle the fire that had good mitigation. “It could have been any of 1,000 homes,” Maketa said.
Fisher outlined some other fundamental issues in his report including out-of-date equipment. But overall, he praised the response of Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey, saying he provided leadership and guidance in fighting this fire both before and during.
Sheriff Maketa has accused Harvey of mishandling the fire in its early hours.
After harshly criticizing the report Friday, Maketa told reporters he had not read it.
He emphasized that the Sheriff’s Office is the official investigating agency of the Black Forest Fire. No cause of the fire has been released.
The fire started June 11, 2013 and was declared 100 percent contained June 20.