News 5 Guardians

Jan 16, 2014 9:04 PM by Eric Ross

News 5 Guardians: Are two separate Black Forest fire investigations needed?

We are looking into how your taxpayer dollars are being spent on two separate investigations on the Black Forest fire. We now know both are focusing on similar aspects of the fire, leaving many wondering whether two investigations were necessary.

Both are ongoing and that's led to a lot of frustration among people living in Black Forest. After fire chief Bob Harvey announced the Black Forest fire had been intentionally set, the fire board hired a team of independent consultants to look into Harvey's claims and the department's response.

That investigation is in addition to Sheriff Terry Maketa's, whose focus is on finding the origin of the fire and determining whether it was intentional or accidental. However, both investigations now seem to overlap, focusing on the same aspects of the fire which is leaving some to question whether the independent investigation was needed in the first place.

"It's my understanding that the jurisdiction for the investigation of the fire belongs to the Sheriff Maketa," resident James Bialpando said.

On Wednesday, the fire board announced its investigation includes searching for the origin of the fire and whether it was intentional, which are the very same components the sheriff's office is looking into.

"To me, something is redundant," Bialpando said.

Some residents are questioning whether the fire board could have spent taxpayer money more efficiently.

"There are so many people who still need help," resident Coni Fisher said. "When your house burns to the ground, you have nothing."

Instead of putting money toward restoration and recovery efforts, we have learned the fire board is spending more than $5,000 of your taxpayer money for an outside communications firm to act as a liaison between the fire board and the public during the investigation.

"The board members are elected and they have the responsibility to the residents out here," Bialpando said. "If somebody asks them something, they should be able to give an answer."

However, very few answers are known. The fire board, Black Forest Fire Department, and public relations firm are all declining to comment about the investigation until it's complete.

We asked both the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Black Forest Fire Department how much money has been spent thus far on their investigation.

Neither could provide News 5 with an answer Thursday.

As soon as we get data from both agencies, we'll be sure to pass it along to you online at KOAA.com.

 

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