News 5 Investigates

Feb 21, 2014 12:21 AM by Eric Ross

News 5 Exclusive: Black Forest fire chief breaks silence

After being cleared of any wrongdoing, Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey is opening up to News 5. In an exclusive interview, Harvey breaks his silence about what he witnessed moments before the fire went out of control, and reacts to the independent investigation which questioned his leadership.

For 8 weeks, Chief Harvey flew under the radar after being criticized for the way he handled the fire. Questions over whether he mismanaged time and resources quickly turned into speculation which tarnished the fire department's reputation. The independent investigation found no truth to those accusations but Harvey tells us, the harmful effects still linger.

The afternoon of June 11th is still fresh on Chief Harvey's mind.

"It started out looking like a couple of puffs of black smoke," Harvey said. "It looked it could have been possibly heavy construction equipment but I really couldn't be sure from a distance."

Little did he know, it would become the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.

"We lost a lot in the district we protect," Harvey said. "To lose more than 470 homes in the Black Forest, it's a real hit to the ego of the firefighters who did their best battling this blaze."

Battling the blaze was only the first challenge. Harvey never prepared for the criticism he'd face afterwards. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa publicly called out Harvey for not turning the fire over to the County quick enough, which potentially resulted in the loss of additional homes.

Shortly after Maketa spoke with news media outlets, the fire board ordered an independent investigation to look into Harvey's timeline of events. The report, which was released Wednesday, found Harvey acted appropriately in allocating resources and did nothing wrong.

Still, the allegations that Harvey didn't perform his job to the best of his ability upset him.

"People are going to look for someone to blame in the situation and I guess it was my turn to be blamed," Harvey said.

News 5 asked, "Looking back now, how has this changed your life?"

"There were a lot of sleepless nights," Harvey said. "I don't think I slept for more than 2 hours the first three days."

Months after the fire, the weight of being blamed for not doing enough took a toll not only on him, but his family.

News 5 asked, "Through all the criticism, your family stood by you the entire time and never doubted your performance?"

"I don't think there was any doubt in their minds," Harvey said. "I've received many compliments about the fact that I brought my firefighters home safely."

Harvey was adamant he did all he could to take control of the fire. The official independent report backs up those claims which is a sigh of relief for Harvey, who just wants to move forward.

"It's a piece (the report) that puts something behind us and we can move on," Harvey said.

The entire 80-page independent investigation has yet to be made public.

It's currently undergoing review by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's Office.



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