COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The El Paso County Sheriff's Office held a news conference Tuesday morning to announce the findings contained in its after action report for the Black Forest Fire.
Sheriff Terry Maketa said that his office's investigation into the fire is nearly complete.
Maketa said his office is waiting for one more final report from the U.S. Forest Service before forwarding the investigation to the district attorney's office. It will be up to the DA's office to determine if the cause of the fire was criminal.
Maketa said that while investigators know where the fire started, they still haven't determined exactly how it started. He said lightning, smoking, a campfire, the railroad and children playing have been ruled out.
The sheriff also focused on lessons learned during the fire.
He said the county has purchased 75 communication radios that can be distributed to first responders from outside agencies that come to El Paso County to assist when the next disaster strikes. He says that should improve communication.
Maketa also said that fire safety equipment has been purchased for every patrol deputy.
While the sheriff and his public information officer insisted on keeping the news conference focused on the report, a few reporters did ask questions about the recent scandal involving Sheriff Maketa.
When asked if he's considering resigning, Maketa said that it is his intention to remain in office until the investigation is complete and all of the facts come out.
Maketa also said that the distraction caused by the controversy is not negatively impacting the ability of sheriff's office employees to do their jobs and respond to emergencies.
When asked whether having three commanders on leave is putting a strain on sheriff's office operations, Maketa said that it is not. He said that he sometimes has that many people out of the office on vacation.
The sheriff also addressed the strained relationship between himself and Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey.
Maketa said that he, Harvey, and both departments are committed to working together to protect the community should another disaster occur.
Chief Harvey, who was cleared of any wrong doing following a Target 13 Investigation into his handling of the fire, is currently on medical leave.
It was Sheriff Maketa who raised questions about Harvey's handling of the fire to KRDO NewsChannel 13.
The Black Forest Fire Department provided the following response to the release of the report:
Black Forest Fire/Rescue welcomes the release of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office after-action report on the Black Forest Fire of June 2013. However, we were not asked to participate in the report's development. To gain a more complete picture of this disaster, citizens and historians should refer to both the "Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District Independent Investigation Report," and Sheriff's "Black Forest Fire After Action Report / Improvement Plan."
We agree with the Sheriff's Office on several important points:
We agree that thousands of capable people made extraordinary efforts to manage this disaster, under extremely difficult conditions. Our department and the Black Forest community are deeply grateful for the outpouring of aid we have received from our neighbors, regional and statewide organizations, and the nation.
We agree that disasters are naturally chaotic, and it is difficult to find hard evidence after the smoke clears. The memories of tired, stressed responders are often unreliable, and they are often too busy to take notes. We agree that new information will emerge for many years, and we may never find hard evidence to support or refute some claims.
We agree that our entire region learned lessons from the Waldo Canyon Fire that improved the response to the Black Forest Fire. In turn, the Black Forest Fire taught all of us new lessons. We do not welcome the thought of another disaster, but we are confident that our regional response system has never been better prepared to respond to one.
We agree with Sheriff Maketa that both of our organizations are committed to working together to protect the community should another disaster occur. Our members have continued to work effectively with Sheriff's Office personnel, and all other regional first responders. Black Forest Fire/Rescue remains committed to being part of a robust regional system of cooperative emergency response.