Sheriff Calls Black Forest Fire Report 'Garbage'; Fire Board Says They Stand By Results

Scene from the Black Forest Fire, June 2013

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa fired back at the results of a independent investigation into the Black Forest Fire, calling the report "garbage."

Maketa said the public has been misled by the report, compiled by David Fisher of Fisher Enterprises, LLC.

"Shame on you Mr. Fisher and the garbage that your public relations firm has put out in an effort to protect the reputation of a fire district," Maketa said.

The chairman for the Black Forest Fire District Board sent KKTV this response about the report and Maketa's allegations:

"Our Board stands by the report that was released this morning. This report was prepared by an experienced law enforcement officer not a PR person as claimed by the Sheriff. Our Board is not going to engage in a "he said she said " conversation with the Sheriff. We are committed to move this community forward in the healing process."

A potential bombshell was uncovered by Fisher while looking into the handling of the fire.

The report alleges firefighters were sent to specifically protect the home of the acting commander of Emergency Services for El Paso County, Bob McDonald.

Maketa said, "Never did Commander McDonald ask for any fire resources to be directed to his home."

The full report was released to the public Friday. The report was written by an independent investigator hired by the Black Forest Fire Board. Fisher was hired for the internal investigation after Maketa accused Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey of mishandling the fire.

Fisher is a retired police commander from Greenwood Village.

Excerpts from the report, originally released a seven-page excerpt in February, cleared Harvey of any wrongdoing. The full report is more than 2,000 pages.

History of Investigation

Harvey has been harshly criticized by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa for his leadership during the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history. A war of words was set off late last year after Harvey told members of the media that the fire was likely intentionally caused. This prompted Maketa to release a withering statement alleging that Harvey was "covering up his own mishandling" of the fire.

Highlights of Report

--Investigator Dave Fisher, hired by the Black Forest Fire Board, concluded in his report that there was "no evidence that the conduct of Chief Harvey, or for that matter, the first 100 or so firefighters who responded to the initial calls, was anything but professional, heroic, well-meaning and exemplary."

--The report details specific actions taken by firefighters during the Black Forest Fire, saying at one point (pg. 66-67) firefighters were sent on a "secret special assignment" to protect one home in the Black Forest area. That "secret assignment" according to the report was to protect the home of Bob MacDonald, acting commander of Emergency Services for El Paso County.

The report says this assignment sent firefighters right back to an area where they had nearly been killed an hour before, and as they tried to return, the smoke was so thick they had to stop. According to the report, firefighters tried to refuse the assignment at that point, but "were ordered to continue."

"As the smoke cleared a bit, they did go to the end of **REDACTED**, where they located Mr. Thyme [with CSFD]. He told them their assignment was to protect **REDACTED.** He told them it came "from the top" meaning the Incident Commander. ... The house directly to the south of this address was destroyed. The firefighters told me that the home belonged to some commander with the sheriff's office.

Continues a paragraph down:

"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."

--The report suggests the possibility of a relationship between the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, and states that "the consensus of fire agencies is that when and if a suspicious fire occurs and the Sheriff's office is called to investigate, that is the end of any cooperative efforts."

--According to the report , Stratmoor Hills firefighters observed El Paso County Assistant Deputy Fire Marshall Scott Campbell started a back burn, then left the scene, leaving the fire unattended. A back burn is a fire created to stop a wildfire already in progress by reducing the amount of flammable material in the area of the fire.

The back burn raised several questions, including why the back burn was done "at this particular area at this particular time" in the first place, as the area was "in the middle of nowhere." The report also alleges that there was no safety briefing or plan in place prior to the back burn, and no communication about it.

The report also says that a mobile home in the area was destroyed, but adds there is no confirmation that this was because of the back burn.

Additional Highlights From Report

--The report states pg. 25 that Harvey's official vehicle was not up-to-date, and that he did not have enough paper maps to hand out. This was problematic, the report says, because there were so many agencies responding to the fire that were not familiar with the Black Forest area.

--Page 48 states that there have been nine suspicious fires in the Black Forest area since the Black Forest Fire. There is a possibility of these being related. The investigator found that investigators "failed to complete as thorough of an investigation as could have been done" in the Black Forest Fire.

--On page 65, the investigator says he observed that there were issues getting the reverse emergency notifications out in a timely manner. He stresses this is only an observation, but that from what he saw on the Visnet report, there was some difficulty getting calls out.