Colorado County Sheriff releases report on Black Forest Fire

Black Forest Fire
Black Forest Fire. Photo from EPSO report.

Terry Maketa, the sheriff of Colorado’s El Paso County, has released a report about the Black Forest Fire, the third report about the fire by agencies in the county. In June of 2013 the fire claimed two lives, 14,000 acres, and 486 homes near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The state is one of a few that make the local county sheriff responsible for fire suppression on non-federal lands, and Sheriff Maketa made sure that his photograph was prominently displayed at the top of page two in the report.

The Sheriff has been extremely critical of Black Forest Fire District Chief Bob Harvey who was the Incident Commander during the early stages of the fire. Sheriff Maketa has given several blistering interviews to the media criticizing Chief Harvey’s actions that day. His main point was that he thinks the Chief should have turned over the fire to him or the county much earlier. Two other reports have been commissioned and released by the Black Forest Fire District Board. One of them concluded that about two hours after the initial dispatch Chief Harvey turned over the fire to County Deputy Fire Marshall Scott Campbell, a Type 3 Incident Commander. The second report by the Fire District contained more than 2,000 pages and can be downloaded, but it is a HUGE 345 MB file.

The Sheriff’s 127-page report points out a number of areas for improvement, including

  • communications,
  • non-interoperable radio systems, (has a fire report ever NOT listed communications as a problem?),
  • fire radio traffic and dispatching overwhelming routine dispatching,
  • management of information technology, and
  • reconnaissance.

Apparently there were two Incident Commanders — one for the fire and one for law enforcement. This was a violation of a core Incident Command System principle. The report suggested additional ICS training and incorporating law enforcement into the fire command structure in future incidents, such as making them a functional Branch.

The Sheriff’s report took several shots at the handling of the fire by the Black Forest Fire Protection District during the first two hours, including the report on conditions and the transition to the County.

When Sheriff Maketa introduced his fire report at a news conference this week, he deflected several questions from reporters about the recent unanimous vote by the El Paso County commissioners to ask him to resign over allegations of sexual impropriety, discrimination, creating a hostile workplace, violating civil rights, and more. The commissioners can’t force the sheriff to resign since he is an elected official. Maketa has said in spite of the allegations, he will serve out the remainder of his term which ends later this year.

An interesting side note from the report:

The Food Unit utilized Yellow Stone Kelly’s catering starting on June 13, however they had difficulties meeting the contract serving requirements and requested to be replaced. Interim meals were provided for dinner on June 16 and breakfast and lunch on June 17, with the assistance of local restaurants. On June 17, Big Sky #4 catering arrived at the [Incident Command Post] and began providing meals throughout the duration of the incident.

Incident Management Team personnel helped serve those three meals on June 16 and 17.

Black Forest Fire
Black Forest Fire. Photo from EPSO report.

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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.

5 thoughts on “Colorado County Sheriff releases report on Black Forest Fire”

  1. The first caterer was released after serving nearly raw chicken to crews that had been waiting over an hour in the chow line.

  2. Bill,

    I haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, but does it mention why Colorado Springs FD also refused to go into unified command stating “we don’t do that around here”?

  3. “Apparently there were two Incident Commanders — one for the fire and one for law enforcement. This was a violation of a core Incident Command System principle.”

    Actually, having separate fire and law enforcement incident commanders is very common and used all of the time in Southern California under Unified Command. Unified command is a principle briefly introduced in I-200 and I-300, but covered extensively in I-400.

    Under the unified command principle, the ICs are co-located in the same ICP, making decisions for their jurisdictional responsibilities, and supporting the overall incident objectives.

    On a recent WUI fire in SoCal, the fire was managed under a Type 3 organization with incident commanders from the Forest Service (federal lands), CAL FIRE (state responsibility lands), the local fire department (responsibilities for structures), and the Sheriffs Department (responsibility for evacuations, road closures, etc).

    1. You’re right, Ken. I should have said EXCEPT when you are working in an agreed upon Unified Command structure. In the example given in the Black Forest Fire, it was not an agreed upon Unified Command Structure. There were literally two ICs, working independently, according to my interpretation of the report. Unified Commanders need to be on the same page, and any one of them can speak for the group of of ICs.


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