A Colorado fire chief is being castigated by a local sheriff for saying that the Black Forest wildfire, the most destructive in state history, was intentionally set, not sparked by lightning as investigators had suggested.
Fire Chief Bob Harvey told a Colorado Springs TV station, “yes, it was human caused and appears intentional.”
The Black Forest fire burned more than 14,000 acres, destroyed nearly 500 homes and killed two people.
“It’s clear that this was human caused,” Harvey said. “I don’t think anybody in the Black Forest area is surprised that this is human caused and probably intentional at all.”
But El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa slammed Harvey for the comments, saying in a statement released by his office that Harvey is not involved in the investigation and can’t make the claims he’s made.
Maketa called the comments “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
“His comments are nothing more than an attempt to mislead the public and a mere witch hunt,” the statement reads. “Numerous national experts and federal resources have been involved in this investigation and have not and cannot substantiate Chief Harvey’s unqualified knee jerk claims.”
Maketa went so far as to say that Harvey may be trying to deflect attention from is own response to the June fire, which caused more than $85 million in damages.
“He does not know the point of origin and has been less than truthful about other circumstances with this disaster and just 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,” Maketa wrote.
“Furthermore, this Chief didn’t even know homes were burning at a time several were engulfed and never even requested evacuations of nearby households as the fire rapidly grew out of control, clearly placing citizen’s safety in jeopardy,” he said. “It’s an injustice that he has chosen to jump to these unjustified and inconclusive assumptions without any effort to coordinate with local investigative authorities that have expended extensive resources to identify the cause and manner of this serious tragedy.”
Harvey didn’t elaborate on his comments or offer the TV station any evidence or information about a possible suspect, saying only, “I think the worst thing is this person still is out there.”
Maketa is one of Colorado’s more outspoken sheriff’s, taking to Facebook earlier this year when Gov. John Hickenlooper was prepared to sign new gun control bills into law. He claimed Democrats threatened to hold up a bill that would raise sheriffs’ pay because most of them — including Maketa — were opposed to the new legislation. Maketa is among the majority of Colorado sheriffs who are suing Colorado to overturn the new gun laws.
“Chief Harvey’s comments are reckless, irresponsible and lack what is in the best interests of the community following this tragedy,” he wrote about the Black Forest fire, which burned for more than a week.
Harvey has not responded to Maketa’s statements. News outlets reported that he has not replied to messages seeking comment.
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