Report: Black Forest Fire crews ordered on 'secret special assignment' to protect commander's home

DENVER - In a report released Friday, it was revealed that on the first night of the Black Forest Fire, four firefighters and a "very key piece of equipment" were ordered on a "secret special assignment" to watch and protect the home of an El Paso County Sheriff's Office commander while other nearby houses burned.

The 2,000 page report was released by the Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District.

READ - Report and Exhibits: http://ch7ne.ws/1gxI98A

SEE - Photographs from Report: http://ch7ne.ws/1cZVj34

The home was owned by Robert McDonald, the acting commander for emergency services for El Paso County, and that during the fire neither his name, nor his address was to be aired over any radio channel, the report said.

The reported indicated that the firefighters in question had nearly been killed by a burn an hour earlier in the same area, and that the "fire and heat were so extensive that it melted the plastic hose cover off the top of the rig. They almost deployed their shelters inside their truck it was so bad."

The crew was ordered to go back into that fire again, but as they approached the area the smoke was so bad they had to stop.

"They tried to refuse the order, but were ordered to continue," the report stated.

Steve Thyme, a member of El Paso Wildland Team at the time, drove past the firefighters into the smoke.

The report indicates that Thyme called the firefighters, "and told them there was no fire and that it was OK to proceed." He advised them that their assignment was to protect the home and that the order came "from the top" -- meaning the incident commander.

According to the report, the property was well mitigated, and its sprinklers were on, so the trucks never needed to put any water on the commander's house. However, a home directly to the south of McDonald's home was destroyed by the fire.

The Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District made the following recommendation in the report as a result of the investigation:

"It is not appropriate to take public firefighting equipment and place it on one particular address when those pieces of equipment could and likely would have been utilized to protect and defend other structures. Ordering firefighters to go and protect one home after they had just nearly lost their lives is reckless and irresponsible."

The report went on to say:

"Protecting a public official's home at the expense of other residences is poor decision making at best."

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GALLERY - Black Forest Fire Engulfs Homes: http://ch7ne.ws/1oUkeEV

IMAGES - Black Forest Fire Evacuees Return to See Damage: http://ch7ne.ws/1eANLP9

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