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Black Forest residents respond to bickering about fire investigations

Fire chief, sheriff should cool public dispute, residents say

Public Reaction to Public Bickering on Black Forest Fire

BLACK FOREST, Colo. - Two Black Forest neighbors -- one who lost a home and another whose home was saved -- said they're satisfied with the response from the town's fire department and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office during last year's wildfire.

Fire Chief Bob Harvey and Sheriff Terry Maketa have been at odds since Harvey said during a KRDO NewsChannel 13 investigation that arson caused the fire.  Maketa said the revelation was premature and unfounded because the investigation by his office wasn't complete and hadn't determined whether the fire's cause was accidental or intentional.

The dispute heated up on Friday when the results of an investigation, paid for by the Black Forest Fire Protection Board, defended Harvey's response in the first hours of the fire.  During a news conference, Maketa called the results "lies" and "garbage."

Ray Miller has lived on Milam Road in Black Forest for 32 years and is rebuilding his home that was destroyed in the fire.  He said he's not focusing on anger or blame.

Miller said his only complaint about the fire is that he wasn't allowed to return to his property as soon as he would have liked.

Miller's next-door neighbor, Dennis Immer, praised the efforts of firefighters who saved his home, but expressed concern about Maketa's public criticism of Harvey.

"We've met Chief Harvey," Immer said.  "He seemed very competent.  We had no reason to believe there was any incompetence in handling the fire.  I guess it's led me to be a little suspicious of some of the motivations involved."

The bickering between Harvey and Maketa likely will continue because Maketa's office continues to conduct its own fire investigation.  Maketa said it should be finished in a few months and promised it will contain more details than the just-completed Black Forest probe.

Immer, who has lived in Black Forest for 13 years, said he hopes Harvey and Maketa will find common ground and compromise.

"Seems like we need to pull together as a community now, rather than have this tension," Immer said.  "There's enough frustration, enough loss, enough hurt that the people have gone through out here."

Two people died and nearly 500 homes were destroyed in the wildfire that burned last June.

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