Fire department: Leads developed in Black Forest fire cause

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - The fire department that first responded to a massive wildfire that killed two people in the Black Forest area says outside investigators have developed some leads about the potential source the blaze.

Black Forest Fire/Rescue District announced the development Wednesday night but provided no details. Read the district chairman's full statement below.

The fire started in June northeast of Colorado Springs and destroyed 486 houses. It's considered the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

Black Forest Fire/Rescue says the leads emerged during a review of the response to the fire, conducted by two investigators hired by the agency.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, whose department is also investigating the fire, has criticized Black Forest Fire/Rescue Chief Bob Harvey's handling of the blaze.

The war of words began in November when Harvey said 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.

Maketa responded with 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 said.

-- Black Forest Fire/Rescue Board Chairman Ed Bracken Statement:

“Last month this Board took specific action to engage the services of a skilled investigator to determine whether the District’s response at the time of the June 11, 2013 “Black Forest Fire” was appropriate and timely.  As many of you know there have been allegations that more could have been done, and should have been done, as this deadly and disastrous fire situation unfolded.  We as a board wanted to get to the bottom of those allegations.

Since December 10th this investigation has involved the professional time of two investigators, one with a fire specialty, and to date numerous interviews, at least 40 at last count, have been conducted, and new lines of inquiry have been developed.  Dave Fisher and Dave Daley have put in more than 200 hours of field work.

It’s often difficult to know where an investigation will lead, but I can tell you that as a result of our investigators’ work, other leads about the potential source and origin of the fire have developed.  It is the District’s responsibility to investigate the potential source and origin of fires within the District boundaries.  Nonetheless, our investigators are also cognizant of their moral, ethical and legal responsibility to report those leads, and we have shared those with the Sheriff’s Office.  The District may additionally involve other law enforcement agencies as appropriate.

Using an investigative team, and having to hire a media relations specialist, is an entirely new enterprise for this fire district, and while we didn’t ask for this role, we have made the commitment to see it through to a firm conclusion.  We expect that the interviews, and reviews of logs, reports and timelines, will be wrapped up in the next few weeks. A final report should be complete by the time of our February meeting.

In keeping with our stated position, we will not engage in any guesswork about the contents of the anticipated report, or conduct dialogue with the media, about individual interviews, timeline, or other issues expected to be included in it, until the report is wrapped up and ready for public release.  The Board of Directors itself has not yet reviewed materials related to the investigation, and is also anxious for the close of the investigation.  This update is as much as we are able to provide at this time.

We thank you for your patience, your interest and trust in the District, and our belief that this is the proper course of action for the good of all of the residents of Black Forest.”

-- El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa statement:

“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. The information provided no evidentiary value whatsoever and did not further the investigation in any way.

 Furthermore, the investigative file initiated by Chief Bob Harvey was also turned over to the Sheriff's Office pursuant to a court order due to his lack of cooperation. The file provided by Chief Harvey provided no value and was not based on facts or scientific evidence and did not help to further the investigation in any way. The file contained only notes, daily logs, miscellaneous maps and did not resemble any appearance of a criminal or fire investigation and did not help to further the investigation.

 The Sheriff's Office is continuing the investigation and we are confident that once complete, it will stand solely on the facts and evidence not merely assumptions or theories.”

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