Investigator Will Look At How Black Forest Fire Was Handled

An independent investigator has been called in to take a closer look at how the state's most destructive wildfire was handled.

This comes amid public squabbling between El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey. Maketa has raised questions regarding Harvey's competence during the Black Forest Fire, going so far as to accuse him of potential covering up his own mishandling of the fire.

Maketa's comments came after Harvey publicly stated that his investigators determined that the Black Forest Fire was likely intentionally started. Harvey has stood by his investigators' assessment, and told 11 News that the Sheriff's Office hadn't been communicating with his department.

The Black Forest Fire District held an executive session Monday, where they told the two dozen community members in attendance that they stand behind Chief Harvey, and that they believe in his leadership and his actions during the fire.

The board said that they have been "unable to corroborate" the allegations against Harvey, but that "in the interest of objectivity," they have asked an independent investigator to look into the accusations. The board also announced that they are going to put a timeline together of the sequence of events during the fire.

The board refused a question and answer session at the end of the meeting, angering some in attendance. Members of the board and a man in the audience could be heard talking over each other, as the man yelled questions at the board while members repeatedly said they would not take questions.

Those in attendance Monday night were split: some called for Harvey's resignation, while others suggested that the public nature of the allegations against the fire chief were bad for the community.

"I'm really here tonight because I think it's too bad that we've had this destructive force really come in the community," Mark Fitzgerald told 11 News. "Rather than look at the positive and high energy message about the positive things that happened and how we can move forward in the community."

Fitzgerald said he wanted to see the different agencies learn to work better together.

"Let's better understand each other's strength and weaknesses, rather than snipe and look at things in the past in a negative light."

Anthony David was blunt in his assessment of Harvey.

"I would like to see the chief step down," he said.

Not just Harvey, David told 11 News, but also members of the board, to "bring in some fresh faces and people that we all have confidence in."

David wanted to see answers to the recent questions raised.

"I just feel they need to address the issues that we are bringing before them instead of hiding behind closed doors.

"Tell us what happened and why it happened the way it did. That's all we are asking for."

Below is the entire board statement, read by Chairman Eddie Bracken:

"The statement we make from the board is as follows: at this time the board of directors of the Black Forest Rescue Protection District has no objective information that there were any mistakes made during the initial hours of the 2013 Black Forest Fire by Chief Harvey, district firefighters or any of our valued mutual aid company. The facts at our disposal currently indicate a different timeline and series of events.

Recent press reporting is the first time that any board member has heard of complaints in our department's response. Many allegations have been floated that the board has been unable to corroborate so far. The board has asked legal counsel to engage an independent investigator to obtain official records and interview responding firefighters to confirm or refute the seemingly unfounded accusations that surfaced last month. The board feels that recent events have caused an unfortunate split in our community while we are working hard to heal from our catastrophic fire. On behalf of our residents, we are deeply concerned with the potential for impaired working relationships with other local agencies. We will work to swiftly resolve the current situation and restore effective operations for the good of our citizens.

The board and staff of the fire department have complete confidence in Chief Harvey. In the interest of objectivity we are requesting an independent investigation to ensure that our citizens have the highest quality protection available. End of statement."

Black Forest firefighters also wrote a letter, which says they believe the outcome of the fire could have been much worse if it wasn't for Harvey's actions.