Wildfire dispute between sheriff, local fire chief

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - The sheriff leading the investigation into the cause of Colorado's most destructive wildfire on Thursday angrily disputed statements by a local fire chief that the blaze outside of Colorado Springs was intentionally set.

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa also accused Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey of being "less than truthful about other circumstances with (the) disaster" in comments Harvey first made late Wednesday to KRDO-TV.

Harvey did not return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. He told Colorado Springs reporters as he entered a county commissioners meeting Thursday that he would make no further statements "at this time."

In a statement issued Thursday, Maketa said that the Black Forest fire was "human caused" _ as his office previously reported _ but that there was no evidence it was intentionally set.

Maketa added that Harvey was not involved in the ongoing investigation led by Maketa's department, KRDO said ( http://tinyurl.com/mqsbgsy).

The Black Forest Fire started June 11. It killed two people, destroyed 486 homes and damaged 37 other homes in a residential area northeast of Colorado Springs. The fire charred 24 square miles.

Harvey told KRDO that the fire "was human caused and appears intentional." He said he had consulted with "outside experts" in reaching that conclusion but did not elaborate. He said he felt obligated to report his conclusion to the public, adding, "I think the worst thing is this person still is out there."

Maketa responded: "Do not buy into Chief Harvey's claims until it's confirmed by the actual agency that has been the lead of the investigation and will base its findings on indisputable scientific evidence that can withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice system. Right now that isn't the case."

The sheriff didn't stop there.

Maketa stated that Harvey didn't realize homes were burning as the fire grew out of control and said he could be "covering his own mishandling of the event in an attempt to avoid responsibility for letting the fire get out of hand."

Walt Seelye, a member of the Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District board, said Thursday his department responded quickly and immediately sought aid from other fire departments. He said the wind-whipped fire covered 2 square miles in two hours and that it is impossible to blame anyone for the death and destruction.


Information from: KRDO-TV, http://www.krdo.com/

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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