The Black Forest fire chief avoids questions about claims fire cause

Sheriff blasts chief's actions

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - There are conflicting reports about the investigation into the most destructive wildlife in Colorado history.

Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey told KRDO-TV Wednesday night that the fire was human caused.

"I don't think that anybody in the Black Forest area is surprised that this is human caused and probably intentional," Harvey said.

Harvey told KKTV he has been working with investigators, and this was the conclusion they had reached over the last few weeks. He said it was a strong possibility that the Black Forest Fire was linked to several small fires that started in Fox Run Park a month later.

However, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa wrote on a Facebook and issued a statement saying he was shocked that Harvey talked about an active investigation and accused Harvey of mishandling the event.

"Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case," Maketa wrote.

Maketa then went after Harvey.

"He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just 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," Maketa wrote. "Furthermore, this Chief didn't even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy."

Read Maketa's entire statement below.

On Thursday, a reporter from KRDO-TV confronted Harvey about his claims.  When asked why he wouldn't answer questions, Harvey said, "Because I don't want to play into this."

The Black Forest Fire started on the afternoon of June 11. In the nine days before it was fully contained, the fire killed two people, destroyed 511 homes and consumed 14,280 acres.

The fire victims, Marc Herklotz, 52, and his wife Robin Herklotz, 50, were killed as they were preparing to evacuate.  Flames overtook their garage as they were packing their car.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said in June that the fire started east of Highway 83 along Shoup Road.

The fire cost more than $85 million, and is considered to be the most destructive fire in the state's history.

Sheriff Maketa's full statement via Facebook:

“Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey's unqualified knee jerk claims. "Human caused" has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just 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. Furthermore, this Chief didn't even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It's an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey's comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”