As Seen On News 5

Jul 3, 2013 7:33 PM by Andy Koen

Sheriff evaluates response to Black Forest Fire

Time was short. Once the fire started on the afternoon of June 11, those living in the Black Forest had precious few minutes to get out.

"The first four hours were really consumed with rescue," recalled El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. "We were still able to achieve the door-to-door but the fire was really outrunning the resources we had."

The flames raced on that afternoon eventually taking the lives of two people and destroying more than 500 houses.

Maketa says lessons learned from Waldo Canyon last summer helped them bring resources to the fire fight quicker this summer. Planes and helicopters almost never share air space, but in this case the state granted an exception in less than an hour.

"They made an exception because of the valuation and the dangerous rate of which that fire moved and they knew they needed to get a lot of drops on it to support the firefighters on the ground," Maketa said.

Information on homes that were lost in the fire came out faster. The transition of leadership to the Federal Type 1 incident command was also made easier by friendships forged last summer.

"Knowing it was Rich Harvey was a tremendous boost because we've already worked together," Sheriff Maketa said.

In the fall, voters passed Ballot Issue 1A raising sales taxes by 0.23 percent specifically to fund additional personnel and equipment for the sheriff's office. The sheriff credits the passage of the tax increase with giving him more flexibility to respond.

"We were able to pull 20 plus deputies out of the jail, roll the jail into a 12 hour shift and that freed up 20-25 people that we were able to flood into the Black Forest area," Maketa said. "The only reason we could do that was because of 1A."

Like the Waldo Canyon Fire, the cause of the Black Forest Fire remains a mystery.

"We want to know the cause, we can learn from the cause, we can look at the contributing factors and we need to determine was this criminal or was purely accidental," Maketa said.

The sheriff continues to ask anyone with information about the fire to contact them, especially those who may have been working in the area where the fire started.

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