Fire Chief and Sheriff disagree about cause of Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs

Black Forest Fire Colorado Springs
Firefighters mop up on the Black Forest Fire, June 15, 2013. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

(Originally published at 1:05 p.m. MST, November 21, 2013; updated at 9:20 p.m. Nov. 21)

The Fire Chief responsible for the suppression of the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs is disagreeing publicly with the county Sheriff about the cause of the fire that killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and damaged 37 others in June.

Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey told KRDO recently that the fire was caused by a human and “appears intentional”. He said he felt obligated to inform the public adding, “I think the worst thing is this person still is out there.” He said he consulted with outside experts in coming to that conclusion, but did not provide any more details.

Chief Harvey told KKTV that he has been working with investigators over the past few weeks, and they reached the conclusion that the fire was “likely intentional.” He stood by that conclusion Thursday.

However, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, whose department is leading the investigation, disagrees vehemently with the Chief, accusing him of being “less than truthful” about other details concerning the fire.

Below is the text of a press release distributed by the Sheriff just after midnight very early this morning:

DATE: November 21, 2013 [12:30 a.m.]


Sheriff Terry Maketa was shocked to see recent reports in the local news media where Black Forest Fire Chief Harvey was quoted concerning the active investigation into the cause of the Black Forest Fire. On more than one media source, Chief Harvey was quoted as saying the cause of the fire had been determined to be “intentional”.

Sheriff Maketa offered these comments concerning the inappropriate remarks.

“Do not buy into Chief Harvey’s claims until it’s confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn’t the case. His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt. Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey’s unqualified knee jerk claims. “Human caused” has been known for a long time but this Chief is not involved in the investigation nor qualified to offer legal and scientific evidence. He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just may be merely covering his own mishandling of this event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for allowing the fire to get out of hand. Furthermore, this Chief didn’t even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy. It’s an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy. Chief Harvey’s comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy.”


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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Fire Chief and Sheriff disagree about cause of Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs”

  1. The Sheriff’s needs to take a back seat! That’s the problem with elected cops these days, their ego wants to control the world. Its time for Colorado to pass laws to clip the wings of these elected renegades.

  2. From a criminal law perspective, I realize that whether this fire was arson or simply a non-negligent accident is a huge difference. But, from a policy perspective, there’s a certain percentage of fires that will be from arson. And, that area of Colorado was going to burn sooner or later. The real issue there, to me, is the need for reform of building codes and insurance policies so that the lack of defensible space and sound construction is not so much of an issue in the future. Having been to CO and other “tony” areas in the wake of some recent fires, I am still surprised how there are basically no visible physical changes to properties that weren’t directly affected by nearby fires in terms of homeowners trying to become more firewise. Sounds like at the state level CO is aware of the need to move more towards the SoCal approach for these things, though.

    It is refreshing to see frank talk from public official like Sheriff Maketa in this context. The backstory there must be quite a doozy, too.

  3. Colorado’s wildfire program is a disaster. Local VFD’s and the Sheriff responsible for wildfire within the county… many counties are there in Colorado? How many sheriff’s have large fire experience? Why not put wildfire under state jurisdiction and actually have Colorado state be responsible for initial attack? This is a clear example of antiquated wildfire policies and lack of a comprehensive and aggressive initial attack program.

    1. Here’s a list of senators and representatives that serve on the state legislature wildfire matters committee. If you live in Colorado write to them. I would also recommend writing to the Governor.

      Given the proposed legislation for this upcoming session, none of your issues are going to be addressed.

      Senators Representatives
      Jeanne Nicholson, Chair Millie Hamner, Vice-chair
      Matt Jones Perry Buck
      Steve King Thomas Exum
      Ellen Roberts Claire Levy
      Lois Tochtrop Dan Nordberg


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