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Sheriff's office refutes Black Forest independent investigator's claim that burnout was reckless

Sheriff's office refutes independent investigation

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - The El Paso County Sheriff's Office is defending Assistant Deputy Fire Marshal Scott Campbell after an independent investigator claimed he acted recklessly in conducting a burnout during the Black Forest Fire.

The Black Forest Fire Board hired the investigator in response to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa's accusations about Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey's handling of the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire.

The investigator's report claims that Campbell conducted the burnout without a safety plan and without communication.  It also questions why Campbell even started the back burn, saying the area was "in the middle of nowhere."

Campbell explained to KRDO NewsChannel 13 that a back burn or burnout is a common technique firefighters use to burn fuels around a structure they want to save.

"The only thing we're trying to do is eliminate consumable fuel while we're there so that we can get safely back out of there and the house will survive on its own," Campbell said.  

There were two homes Campbell attempted to save with the technique.  One home was burned, the other wasn't.

"Had I not lit the fire, both the houses would be gone," Campbell said.

Lt. Jeff Kramer, a spokesperson for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that this was another example of inaccuracies inside the report.

"Them wanting to point that out as him being delinquent in his duties, if you will, while he was away is just one more thing that's absurd," Kramer said.

Kramer also pointed to radio transmissions he said would debunk the investigator's claims.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 obtained the audio transmissions.  Several times Campbell, the type III incident commander, is heard asking other firefighters to check on the back burn.  The independent investigator, citing interviews with Harvey, claimed that Campbell abandoned the burn.

The Sheriff's Office conducted its own investigation into Campbell's handling of the back burn.  It concluded that the loss of the home could not be attributed to Campbell's burnout.  That investigation was turned in to the district attorney's office who cleared Campbell of any wrongdoing.

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