Image from the Black Forest Fire, June 2013
The sheriff and the Black Forest fire chief have been battling about the details of the investigation into the fire.
Wednesday night, independent fire investigators say they have new leads about the source and origin of the fire.
They won't get into specifics, but they say they have shared what they've found with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
This is the statement from Black Forest Fire Board Chairman Ed Bracken:
Last month this Board took specific action to engage the services of a skilled investigator to determine whether the District’s response at the time of the June 11, 2013 “Black Forest Fire” was appropriate and timely. As many of you know there have been allegations that more could have been done, and should have been done, as this deadly and disastrous fire situation unfolded. We as a board wanted to get to the bottom of those allegations.
Since December 10th this investigation has involved the professional time of two investigators, one with a fire specialty, and to date numerous interviews, at least 40 at last count, have been conducted, and new lines of inquiry have been developed. Dave Fisher and Dave Daley have put in more than 200 hours of field work.
It’s often difficult to know where an investigation will lead, but I can tell you that as a result of our investigators’ work, other leads about the potential source and origin of the fire have developed. It is the District’s responsibility to investigate the potential source and origin of fires within the District boundaries. Nonetheless, our investigators are also cognizant of their moral, ethical and legal responsibility to report those leads, and we have shared those with the Sheriff’s Office. The District may additionally involve other law enforcement agencies as appropriate.
Using an investigative team, and having to hire a media relations specialist, is an entirely new enterprise for this fire district, and while we didn’t ask for this role, we have made the commitment to see it through to a firm conclusion. We expect that the interviews, and reviews of logs, reports and timelines, will be wrapped up in the next few weeks. A final report should be complete by the time of our February meeting.
In keeping with our stated position, we will not engage in any guesswork about the contents of the anticipated report, or conduct dialogue with the media, about individual interviews, timeline, or other issues expected to be included in it, until the report is wrapped up and ready for public release. The Board of Directors itself has not yet reviewed materials related to the investigation, and is also anxious for the close of the investigation. This update is as much as we are able to provide at this time.
We thank you for your patience, your interest and trust in the District, and our belief that this is the proper course of action for the good of all of the residents of Black Forest.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa responded to the statement late Wednesday evening. The Sheriff says:
The hired investigator did in fact provide information to the Sheriff's Office which was not new to the investigation and had already been thoroughly vetted by the Sheriff's Office investigators. The information provided no evidentiary value whatsoever and did not further the investigation in any way.
Furthermore, the investigative file initiated by Chief Bob Harvey was also turned over to the Sheriff's Office pursuant to a court order due to his lack of cooperation. The file provided by Chief Harvey provided no value and was not based on facts or scientific evidence and did not help to further the investigation in any way. The file contained only notes, daily logs, miscellaneous maps and did not resemble any appearance of a criminal or fire investigation and did not help to further the investigation.
The Sheriff's Office is continuing the investigation and we are confident that once complete, it will stand solely on the facts and evidence not merely assumptions or theories.
We also called Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey for comment, but we haven't heard back from him.
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