Black Forest district says report clears fire chief of wrongdoing

February 19, 2014 Updated: February 20, 2014 at 9:08 am
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The Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District says an independent report has cleared Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey of any negligence in his handling of the Black Forest fire, but the portion of the report released Wednesday did not answer questions about the fire's cause.

The district commissioned the report after El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa accused Harvey of bungling response to the June 11 fire that killed two people and burned 488 homes and about 14,000 acres.

"The investigation established firmly that there was no professional misconduct on the part of the chief and affirms his leadership abilities," the fire and rescue protection district said in a statement released Wednesday.

Maketa's office, however, fired back with its own release later Wednesday, saying the Black Forest report is based on opinion and not fact.

"Sheriff Terry Maketa reminds members of the community his office is conducting the official investigation," the statement said. "It is unfortunate that this report contains many opinions and general information not based on facts that can be substantiated by actual evidence such as radio transmissions and recorded phone calls."

The Black Forest fire district report said Maketa's accusations have been damaging.

"We can tell you that the allegations have absolutely done needless harm to our reputation," the district board of directors said in a statement accompanying the report. "We are greatly relieved and satisfied with the outcome of this independent inquiry."

While Harvey and the district are both breathing a sigh of relief, details surrounding a possible criminal investigation resulting from the report are being withheld because the full 89-page report won't be released until after it has been reviewed by the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office.

An executive summary of the report released Wednesday included a timeline of the fire's events.

"No matter who was in charge at what time, no one was going to be able to stop this fire," said the lead investigator David Fisher, retired Greenwood Village Police commander, during a press conference Wednesday. "I haven't been able to determine that anyone could have done anything better."

Fisher said he interviewed at least 60 people, including firefighters, Sheriff Terry Maketa and even some community residents.

Black Forest resident Carolyn Brown, who lost her home in the fire, said she has supported the fire district through the investigation controversy, but says it's been divisive for the community, "If everyone was working together, it would help the healing," she said. "I think it's a natural response to be angry and blame someone but what will it change? No one was going to be able to stop that wind."

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