March 15, 2014

Outside Investigator Praises Black Forest Firefighters

KKTV in Colorado Springs reports (text and video) on the recent independent investigation into last summer's Black Forest Fire.

The report said that Black Forest Fire/Rescue Chief Bob Harvey, his volunteers, and the other departments that initially responded acted in ways that were "professional, heroic, well-meaning and exemplary."

The worst thing that Harvey stands accused of maybe is not having enough paper road maps on hand to distribute to firefighters arriving from outside the area. Point taken.

It also includes accounts an incident in which firefighters say they were sent on a "secret special assignment" into a dangerous area specifically to protect the home of the acting commander of Emergency Services for El Paso County, Bob McDonald.

It also "states that there have been nine suspicious fires in the Black Forest area since the Black Forest Fire. There is a possibility of these being related."

The sheriff, Terry Maketa, who has had a bee in his bonnet about Harvey ever since the fire, responded that the report was "garbage."
Harvey has been harshly criticized by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa for his leadership during the Black Forest Fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado history. A war of words was set off late last year after Harvey told members of the media that the fire was likely intentionally caused. This prompted Maketa to release a withering statement alleging that Harvey was "covering up his own mishandling" of the fire.
I suspect that voters in the area would side with the fire chief, but Sheriff Maketa is at the end of his term and cannot be re-elected due to term limits.

The day that the fire started, I listened for a while to the Internet feed from the sheriff's dispatch center, until it just started making me too nervous. There were some calls from units outside Black Forest who had responded, used all the water that they had brought with them, and were trying to learn where they could go to refill their engines. But it was not chaos.

At most Harvey might be guilty of optimism that the fire could have been brought under control quickly the first day, June 11, 2013, before the combination of dry weather, dense pine forest, and wind sent it off and running. It burned more than 14,000 acres, killed two people, and destroyed more than 500 homes.

UPDATE: Here is the Gazette's story on the report, leading with the "secret assignment."

UPDATE 2: Sheriff's office says scout camera photos show what really took place at the McDonald home.

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