Wildfire chain of command change proposed by Sen. Kent Lambert

DENVER - Following criticism of how the massive Black Forest fire was handled last year, a state senator is introducing a bill that would change the way wildfires are managed in Colorado.

The Black Forest is the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The assessor's office said 486 homes were lost in the fire and damage was estimated at $85 million.

While investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, a war of words has erupted between El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa and Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey. It began after Harvey alleged the fire was human-caused, a claim Maketa disputed. Maketa also accused Harvey of mishandling the event.

"One of the lessons learned - I think - in El Paso County, is that the Sheriff needs to have more authority to do what he needs to do with his forces," said Senator Kent Lambert, who is introducing a bill to allow the county to take command without first asking permission from the local agency.

Lambert's proposal would allow county officials to take over fire management without permission from the local agency.

"When you have an adversarial type relationship where someone can come in and just take over, that - to me - doesn't seem very smart," said retired U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Greg Heule, who opposes Lambert's proposal.

Lambert says his proposal would apply only to wildfires, not to other emergencies.