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Sheriff says Black Forest Fire District's report full of inaccuracies

Published On: Feb 27 2014 12:03:28 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 27 2014 12:04:00 AM CST

The El Paso County Sheriff had colorful words on Wednesday for a summary of an investigator's findings hired to look into the Black Forest Fire Chief's actions during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

The El Paso County sheriff had colorful words on Wednesday for a summary of an investigator's findings who was hired to look into the Black Forest fire chief's actions during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the Black Forest Fire Board's Chairman Ed Bracken and Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey owe him an apology.

The Black Forest Fire Board said in a statement that Maketa attacked Harvey for personal and political reasons. This comes after Maketa questioned Harvey's decisions during the initial hours of the fire.

An investigator hired by the board said last week that Harvey did nothing wrong during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire.  The investigator was hired after KRDO NewsChannel 13's investigation into Harvey's judgement calls during the fire.

Maketa said he found errors in almost every paragraph of the investigator's report.

Maketa said he spoke up because Harvey told KRDO NewsChannel 13 the fire was intentionally set.

"The question should be what was his motivation? Was he trying to get attention? Was he trying to secure his job? I don't know.  But, people have forgot, including him, that that's how this was triggered," said Maketa. "That mere statement could contaminate a potential jury pool, it could create problems for prosecution and that's why I called it irresponsible that's why I criticized him."

A statement released from the fire board said:

"The investigation has proven the facts, and what's been established is very, very far from what was alleged."

The Black Forest Fire Board said initially that Harvey passed command to the Sheriff's Office at 3:10 p.m. However, the Black Forest Fire Board's investigator agreed with Maketa's timeline of the fire's initial hours. The investigator's report said Harvey passed command to the Sheriff's Office between 3:45 and 3:55.

"I think Bracken and the chief owe me an apology for disparaging my claim that it was verbally turned over at 3:55 and even their own investigator can't find a reason to disparage that comment," said Maketa.

The investigator hired by the board said Harvey did not pass command of the fire earlier because the fire was out of control.

"That is not a good time to do a transfer of command," said investigator David Fisher.

"What he claims is a brilliant move to try to create a reason to justify what I said from the very beginning. He shouldn't have held on to it. Every minute counts. And the sooner we can get state resources in and start accessing and elevate our status for competing aircraft, the better," said Maketa.

Black Forest Fire Board's investigator said transferring command of the fire to the Sheriff's Office earlier wouldn't have changed anything.

"I guess is what that investigator is saying was... Air support doesn't matter, early attack doesn't matter, first response and strategies, the flooding of resources, none of that matters because the outcome is the outcome."

A spokesperson for the Black Forest Fire District said Harvey would not do an interview for this story.

Maketa said moving foward, first responders from the Black Forest Fire District and the Sheriff's Office will work together professionally.

"If he continues to be the chief then I'll continue to be professional and work with him. And if there is a fire in Black Forest, we will be there as quick as we can like last time," said Maketa.

"I would never blame Harvey for the massiveness and the destructiveness of the fire. There is no one individual," said Maketa.  "But there are a lot of things that could have been done better and I will continue to say that and if the investigator wants to claim that's not the case, that's fine but that would concern me as a citizen."

The Black Forest Fire District said it's up to the District Attorney's Office to release its report. The District Attorney's Office said it will be up to the Sheriff's Office to release it since it is the lead investigative agency. Maketa said it will be released soon.

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