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Authorities, Residents React To Black Forest Fire After Action Report

By: KKTV
By: KKTV
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All investigating agencies agree on exactly where the Black Forest fire started, but El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said we may never know exactly how it started.

"I don't know that we'll ever have a concrete source of ignition," Maketa said during a news conference Tuesday morning.

He did say lightning, smoking, campfires, the rail road and children playing in the area have all been excluded as possibilities.

The new information comes as the sheriff's office nears the end of its investigation. Maketa says the sheriff's office report will be combined with a report from the U.S. Forest Service and turned over to the district attorney along with all the evidence.

It will be up to the DA to review the evidence and decide if criminal charges are appropriate, should the person who started the fire ever be identified.

The sheriff did not comment on whether investigators believe the fire was intentionally or accidentally set.

Maketa said the area's fire and emergency response teams are better prepared than ever before to respond to a fire in the area because of the lessons learned during the Black Forest Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire the year before.

The sheriff's office has already set out trying to remedy some of the past mistakes. They recognized crews weren't properly outfitted during the fire.

"The first thing we did was buy protective breathing apparatuses" and special fire clothing after fire, Maketa said.

Crews will also have more in-depth debriefing after every shift during fires so that information can be shared on a broader scale in the future, according to the sheriff.

On the day the fire started--June 11, 2013--11 News Chief Meteorologist urged residents to evacuate immediately because the fire was "blowing up." That was two hours before residents were given the official evacuation order. 11 News asked Maketa Tuesday why there was a delay.

"Chief Harvey [of the Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District] was the incident commander and is responsible based on his assessment of it to begin the evacuations before any of my staff even showed up. So once my deputy fire marshal is in route, he made the first call for aerial support and he began evacuations," Maketa said.

For their part, the Black Forest fire board says they agree with the sheriff's office on several points. The two agencies had infamously disagreed on several aspects of the other one's investigation late last year and earlier this year. In a statement released Tuesday night, the board said in part:

"The memories of tired, stressed responders are often unreliable, and they are often too busy to take notes. We agree that new information will emerge for many years, and we may never find hard evidence to support or refute some claims."

Homeowners say they're frustrated that a year later, there are still more questions than answers.

"It would be nice to have a conclusive findings to exactly what caused the fire, you know obviously it's not going to change anything but it would nice to get to the bottom of it," Paul Helm said. Helm lost his home in the fire.

"It's just really frustrating not knowing where it started, and what, where or how it happened," homeowner Larrizza Vasquez concurred.

Helm said the details of that day a year ago are still fresh on his mind.

"I remember distinctly a year ago. It was 97 degrees, high winds and my house was on fire."


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