Black Forest Fire Rescue board to hire private investigator

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El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa may not have Bob Harvey’s back, but several folks on the Black Forest Fire Rescue board fully support their chief.

“It is important to set the record straight,” Board President Eddie Bracken told The Tribune Wednesday. “There are a lot of rumors floating around and we want to get to the bottom of it.”

The fiery Bracken is incensed, to say the least, over the way the El Paso County Sheriff’s department is handling its investigation of the Black Forest Fire that broke out in June. The wild fire, the most destructive in Colorado history, killed two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes.

“(Maketa) is controlling this investigation,” Bracken said. “There’s no dialogue between the sheriff’s office and our fire district concerning any investigation. (Harvey) should be made aware of anything going on with this investigation.”

Bracken is not one to mince his words and appears to be right on with his assessment of the lack of communication between Maketa and Harvey.

Sheriff’s department public information officer, Lt. Jeff Kramer, told The Tribune Wednesday that the sheriff’s department will release all information pertinent to the investigation once it is completed.

“We will continue to conduct our investigation as we have since the fire started,” Kramer said. “We’re the lead investigators on this and we will share our information at the appropriate time.”

Led by Bracken, the board decided on Dec. 2 to hire its own private investigator to look into exactly what happened during the first few hours of the fire. Bracken said the search for a private investigator could take “two or three weeks.” Lawyers for the fire district are conducting the search for the private investigator.

Things blew up on Nov. 25 when Maketa took aim at Harvey after Harvey told a local television news station that the June blaze was “probably” intentionally set.

The Tribune’s attempts to reach Harvey have been unsuccessful.

In the statement to the press, Maketa said Harvey “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.”

Bracken believes Maketa’s statement is far from the truth.

“Our chief said it was intentionally set, but he did not say it was arson,” Bracken said with authority. “(Maketa) should substantiate what he said with facts and figures.

“The sheriff’s department did a hatchet job three days before Thanksgiving and got everybody all excited. It’s driven this wedge between us and the community.”

That wedge got even bigger last week when KRDO Channel 13 reported that Black Forest residents have circulated a petition that declares that they “have no faith in Bob Harvey to hold the position of fire chief.” The petition also said, according to KRDO, that Harvey displayed “incompetence, arrogance, lack of integrity and ego.”

Bracken said he has not seen the petition.

“Five to six-thousand people live in the district,” Bracken said. “We’ll deal with the petition if and when we receive it.

“We control the hiring and firing of people in our department.”

Bracken said he also believes that Black Forest Fire Rescue has been more responsive since Harvey was hired and that because of his leadership during the fire many homes were saved.

Bracken added that the board will hold a press conference when it concludes its investigation.

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