Black Forest fire board plans to release costs of independent probe

Information to be posted on fire department's web page, spokesperson says

Black Forest to Post Investigation Cost Figures Next Week

BLACK FOREST, Colo. - After insisting it wasn't ready to provide cost figures from an independent investigation, the Black Forest Fire Department board of directors now says it will post figures on its web page next week.

The change in direction came Friday, a day after KRDO NewsChannel 13 filed a request for information under the Colorado Open Records Act.  The law requires agencies to provide documents, records and other data to the public within three days in most instances.

Board members previously said they weren't ready to provide cost estimates because final invoices haven't been returned yet.  However, one board member expressed concern that the cost is well above an initial estimate of $50,000.

The board's attorneys hired an independent investigator and a public relations firm to address whether Fire Chief Bob Harvey was slow to act in the early hours of the wildfire last June that killed two people and destroyed nearly 500 homes.

Last week, the results of the probe cleared Harvey of any wrongdoing.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa has been critical of Harvey after Harvey told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that arson caused the fire.  Maketa said Harvey's statement was premature and unfounded.

The Sheriff's Office continues its own investigation of the fire.

Another concern expressed, is costs that were incurred by other agencies, ones that assisted during the fire, while being part of the Black Forest investigation.  Lt. Jeff Kramer of the Sheriff's Office said the office has no method of tracking such costs.

"You can't track a particular detective as one set of expenditures because they're doing multiple things on any given day," Kramer said.  "We can go back and research that, but it takes some effort.  There's not some kind of automatic report that can currently be generated to identify what those costs are."

Here is a statement sent Friday to KRDO NewsChannel 13 by Kathy Russel, the fire department's public information officer:

"At its meeting Wednesday night, our Board of Directors directed District staff to review all legal invoices to date, extract all costs that are related to the investigation, and provide a cost summary to the public via our web site.

"I've just been told by District staff that this process is under way now, and the District hopes to publish the total cost-to-date within a few days.

"As the District receives the last invoices related to the investigation, we will update that total.

"Making these figures available as soon as possible is a high priority for our staff."

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