Investigation report released for Black Forest Fire

Origin of the Black Forest Fire

Origin of the Black Forest Fire

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has released a summary report on the investigation of the Black Forest Fire which started June 11, 2013 near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The fire killed two people and burned 489 houses and 14,280 acres, resulting in $420 million in insured losses.

The investigators eliminated natural causes, such as lightning. That left human-related ignitions.

Below are excerpts from the report:

…Given the known devastation of the fire at that point, an Investigation Team was formed consisting of recognized experts in the area of Wildland fire investigation from agencies including the USDA Forest Service, the Aurora Fire Department, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and others. This team was assisted by surveyors from the El Paso County Public Services Department.

The only clearly established fact was that no natural causes existed and thus the fire was human caused. A potential cause associated with the metal particles can not be ruled out, or positively identified. A potential cause associated with an intentional ignition is not supported by the evidence or circumstances, but can not be completely ruled out. The origin of the fire is in an area that is not readily accessible from a roadway, allowing an easy escape, as is typical in intentionally set Wildland fires. There was no evidence of any other miscellaneous cause such as blasting, fireworks, welding, target shooting, etc.

Upon the completion of the investigation, the entire case was reviewed by the Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division and the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any additional leads remained. It was the determination of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant criminal prosecution at this time. None of the investigation or forensic examination supported any one possibility to the extent needed to pursue criminal charges. Additionally, no additional recommended follow-up work could be identified at this time.

Three other reports have previously been released about the Black Forest Fire:

  1. Report on how the fire was managed on the first day, issued by the Black Forest Fire District Board on February 19, 2014. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  2. A 2,000 page, 345 megabyte report, released March 14, 2014, commissioned by the Black Forest Fire District which evaluated how the fire was managed, including the performance of Fire Chief Bob Harvey during the first hours of the fire. Sheriff Terry Maketa had been extremely critical of the Chief in numerous interviews with the media. The complete report can no longer be found on the District’s web site.
  3. After Action Report, by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, May 15, 2014. We preserved this report on the Wildfire Today web site.



Assistance needed in a remote area — will a signaling balloon help?

Rescue me balloon

(UPDATE November 21, 2014: the Rescue Me Balloon is now on Kickstarter.)

A couple of weeks ago we told you about James Mosely who is asking for money to develop what he says is an improved fire shelter that would be “worn as a backpack, and deployed like a wingsuit” if a firefighter is about to be entrapped by a fast moving wildfire.

Another company will be starting a Kickstarter campaign to develop a Rescue Me Balloon which could signal that someone in a remote area needs assistance. The device, about the size of a banana before it is activated, would inflate and deploy on a 150-foot tether a lighter than air bright orange balloon with a flashing light.

Rescue me balloon

If a wildland firefighter needs immediate help, in the form of extraction due to an injury or aerial support if a fire is threatening their position, they have radios that usually work, and they may have a GPS receiver that would tell them their latitude and longitude. If both are functional at their exact position, they could tell others their coordinates. A balloon like this 150 feet above the ground could help those firefighters if they are having problems getting through on the radio, or if they can’t get a GPS signal. Once their location is discovered the balloon could be reeled in so as not to interfere with aircraft coming to their rescue. One potential problem might be the fact that extreme fire behavior often occurs during strong winds, so flying a balloon could be a challenge.

This device is certainly not the answer to keep firefighters safe and it’s not applicable in all situations, but who knows — it might reduce the time it takes to find them when they are in a life and death situation.

The estimated selling price is expected to be $75, but could be available for $40 during the Kickstarter campaign, which has not yet started. You can sign up and they will keep you posted on their progress.

The video below has more details.

Oh, and as far as I know, the Rescue Me Balloon is not affiliated with the excellent TV series, Rescue Me, that starred Denis Leary as a New York City firefighter.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.


In Victoria, “Creating our future together” means slashing 164 positions in the Country Fire Authority

As Australia enters their bushfire season, there is a report that the Country Fire Authority in Victoria will eliminate 164 positions.

Below is an excerpt from an article at

…CFA documents obtained by the Herald Sun reveal close to 10 percent of the organisation’s paid staff will be cut.

The restructure, called Creating Our Future Together, will save the CFA $16 million annually.

CFA spokesman Gerard Scholten said no frontline firefighters positions would be cut. But 71 roles in “Fire and Emergency Management” are to be axed, 16 of which have already been cut. Business services will lose 59 positions, operational training and volunteerism 20, people and culture 7, and communities and communication 1.

United Firefighters Union Victorian Secretary Peter Marshall said he was “gobsmacked” when he found out about the job cuts. Many of the positions being cut lent critical support to firefighters during bushfires, he said.

“It is inconceivable that on the back of a royal commission into the loss of 173 lives, heading into what we now know to be another potentially catastrophic fire season you actually have an organisation that is downsizing critical positions,” Mr Marshall said.

A CFA spokesperson said most cutbacks, in back office positions, were due to the completion of projects stemming from the Victorian bushfires royal commission.

“All were by natural attrition or the completion of contracts,” the spokesperson said on Monday.

“The process is about putting CFA on a more efficient, sustainable footing and living within its means.”