Black Forest Fire ignition location determined, but cause not released, investigation ongoing

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Nearly one year after the Black Forest Fire ignited, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office released its "after-action report" Tuesday.

Sheriff Terry Maketa said the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and three independent investigations have all agreed on where the fire started. The location of the fire's origin was first released last year. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said it started east of Highway 83 along Shoup Road.

Maketa said that authorities have ruled out several causes including lightning, smoking, campfire, railroad sparked and/or children playing in the area, but he did not release the cause of the fire.

He said the sheriff's office report is almost complete. When it is, Maketa said it will be given to the District Attorney's Office to determine criminal culpability.

Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey told KRDO-TV a few months ago that the fire was human caused and appeared intentional.

Maketa responded with a statement saying he was shocked 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 said.

-- Fire response investigation

That war of words led to an investigation into the Black Forest Fire Rescue Department's handling of the fire.

An independent investigation concluded the department and the chief did not mishandle the response to the fire.

The report found that no one could have stopped the fire.

The investigation cost more than $100,000 and forced Black Forest Fire Rescue to eliminate a part-time firefighter position and stop staffing one fire station.

Black Forest Fire/Rescue Board Chairman Ed Bracken said in January that the investigation led to "other leads about the potential source and origin of the fire."

Bracken said that information was shared with the sheriff’s office.

Maketa said the information was not helpful.

"The hired investigator did in fact provide information to the Sheriff's Office which was not new to the investigation and had already been thoroughly vetted by the Sheriff's Office investigators," Maketa said in a news release. "The information provided no evidentiary value whatsoever and did not further the investigation in any way."

In May, voters ousted three of the five members of the Black Forest Fire Board. Two others were not up for re-election.

Last week, Harvey took a leave of absence citing post traumatic stress disorder.

-- Sheriff Maketa controversy

Sheriff Maketa is in the middle of his own scandal. Maketa is accused of having inappropriate sexual relationships with female employees, promoting employees to positions they didn't earn and misusing taxpayer funds.

In a video sent to Sheriff's Office employees, Maketa admitted that he "engaged in inappropriate behavior in the past" and apologized.

Maketa reiterated that he does not intend to step down as a result of his behavior.

"I come before you embarrassed and humbled by the events of last week," Maketa said in the video, referring to demands for his resignation after Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints by Sheriff's Office commanders and a deputy of alleged sexual impropriety, discrimination, budget improprieties and creating a hostile work environment.

The Gazette first broke the story that Maketa was accused by subordinates of having sexual relationships with several female employees. Maketa threatened to take legal action against the Gazette if they printed the story but the newspaper did publish the story, adding it obtained more than 500 emails and text messages from Maketa to one employee, including a cellphone "selfie" of a shirtless Maketa in a bathroom with the message, "Wish you were with me."

Watch the video, with subtitles, at the Gazette.com: http://bit.ly/1uaPALW

-- Black Forest Fire, by the numbers

The Black Forest Fire started on June 11, 2013. It destroyed 489 residences homes, several garages and burned more than 14,000 acres. Insured damage was estimated at $420.5 million. It's considered the second most damaging wildfire in Colorado history, after the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, also in El Paso County. That fire burned 347 homes and racked up a total of $453.7 million in claims.

Two people, Marc Herklotz, 52, and his wife Robin Herklotz, 50, were killed in the Black Forest Fire, as they raced to escape the flames. Flames overtook their garage as they were packing their car.

 

Print this article Back to Top