Sheriff disputes fire timeline as Black Forest fire officials launch inquiry

December 10, 2013 Updated: December 11, 2013 at 2:46 am
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Flames continue to burn off Burgess Road through the night Wednesday, June 12, 2013 as crews work to contain the Black Forest fire. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa on Tuesday disputed the Black Forest Fire District's timeline of events surrounding the June inferno, claiming that the reported sequence "lacks accuracy."

Maketa's statement is the latest development in the dispute between Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey and Maketa, and came just hours after the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District announced that a retired Greenwood Village Police commander will direct the inquiry into the events surrounding the fire that erupted June 11, killing two and destroying nearly 500 homes.

Dave Fisher, a 29-year veteran at the suburban Denver police department was appointed to lead the internal investigation, according to a statement released by the board. Dave Daley, an operations executive officer at South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial, will assist.

Among the issues in dispute is the initial response and management of the fire. The Black Forest fire district reports that the fire was located at 1:45 p.m. Black Forest and Wescott Fire districts were on scene at 1:47 p.m., with Colorado Springs units arriving at 1:51 p.m. By 2:18 p.m., the fire was out of control with a 200-foot flame front, prompting the state to take control of operations by 3:10 p.m., the statement read.

Scott Campbell, El Paso County's Deputy Fire Marshal, was appointed the Type 3 Incident Commander at that time, and in that capacity, he was working for the state, not the county, the statement further read.

Maketa, however, says management of the fire was passed from El Paso County to the state at 5:20 p.m., more than two hours later. The sheriff further says that the handwritten Delegation of Authority giving Campbell control was not signed until 8:23 p.m.

"Furthermore, if their timeline were accurate, it still demonstrates Chief Harvey elected to maintain control of the fire for 52 minutes after they describe the fire as being out of control, erupting into a fire storm with a 200-foot flame," Maketa said in a news release.

Maketa said his sequence of events is supported by eyewitness accounts, as well as data from the Computer Aided Dispatch System.

He added he is willing to provide information to the appointed investigator, as long as it doesn't jeopardize the fire investigation.

The board's decision to expedite an internal investigation followed the controversy surrounding heated exchanges between Harvey and Maketa in recent weeks.

In a Nov. 21 interview, Harvey told a television reporter that the June blaze was "probably" intentionally set.

Maketa shot back at Harvey hours later, releasing a scathing statement saying that the fire chief "may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand."

The Black Forest Fire district has gone on record in support of Harvey and in the statement released Tuesday, board of director's chairman Edward Bracken was quoted pledging the board's support for Harvey and qualifying the inquiry as "an affirmative step toward determining what transpired that fateful day once and for all."

Members of the board agreed to refrain from all public comment until the inquiry is resolved, soon after the New Year, the statement read.

Maketa said they are making progress on the fire investigation.

"Once factual and evidence-supported conclusions have been reached concerning the cause of the Black Forest Fire, the information will be provided to the public immediately. We are working aggressively on our Black Forest Fire After Action Report which will include a timeline of events which can be supported by documentation and electronic time stamps; we expect to release the report in the first quarter of 2014," he said.

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