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Black Forest Fire Chief Acted Properly Says Report

Flames spread quickly once the fire reached the treetops in the Black Forest Fire. This picture was taken June 13, 2013.

The Black Forest Fire/Rescue District has released some of the findings from an independent investigation into Fire Chief Bob Harvey’s response during 2013’s devastating blaze.

The District’s board of directors commissioned the report in December after questions arose regarding the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire and Chief Harvey’s response. The Black Forest Fire was the most destructive in state history, destroying nearly 500 homes and killing two.

Criticism began after Harvey said the fire was likely intentionally set. That prompted a response from El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who called the remarks irresponsible and inappropriate as the investigation was still underway. Maketa also called into question the timeline of record from the Black Forest Fire Department of when control of the fire was transferred.

Credit Earth Observatory / NASA
The Black Forest Fire scar as seen by a NASA satellite, captured on June 21, 2013.

Former Greenwood Village Police Commander Dave Fisher produced the report.

"This timeline seems to be a big, big issue in the community," Fisher said. "What I have found in that report is that at 14:10 [2:10 p.m.], it was a low-crawling fire. In about eight minutes, it is an out of control fire."

Fisher said that as quick as the fire moved into the trees, it wouldn’t have mattered when the official transfer occurred.

"The whole issue it seems like with the timeline, is when was this fire transferred over, and what could have been done if it would have been transferred sooner to the county," Fisher said. "I haven’t been able to determine that. I haven’t been able to determine that anyone could have done anything different or better had it been transferred over at 2:30, for instance."

A summary of Fisher’s investigation [.pdf] says Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey’s conduct during those initial hours was appropriate, but also suggests areas of improvement, like better communication with other agencies. The District Attorney is currently reviewing the full report.

The El Paso County Sheriff's office released a statement in response to the investigation, again calling into question the reconstructed timeline, among other issues. Officials have long said the fire was human-caused, though the release says the investigation is still underway.

Editor's Note: This story is courtesy of KRCC in Colorado Springs

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