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Former investigator says El Paso County Sheriff’s Office knows cause of unsolved Black Forest Fire

BLACK FOREST, Colo. (KRDO) - As the smoke blew, and the flames spread, so did the questions. Who started the Black Forest Fire?

For ten years now, people who lost their homes in the Black Forest Fire have wondered how it started.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office told KRDO that it knew the point of origin, but that's it. A decade later, investigators still don't know the cause.

In a 2013 press conference, then Sheriff Terry Naketa said the El Paso County Sheriff's office was, "pretty narrowly focused on the point of origin."

Now in 2023, no additional information is being released by the Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office considers the Black Forest Fire a cold case.

However, a former investigator with the Sheriff's Office said he knows how the fire started, and so does the sheriff's office.

"It was definitely human-caused," Mark Pfoff said.

In June 2013, Pfoff was an investigator on the Black Forest Fire with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

Pfoff is not with the sheriff's office anymore, so now he's sharing what he knows about the case. He's frustrated it hasn't been solved.

"This case hasn't changed in the last ten years. We knew within a month of the fire," Pfoff adds. "Could they solve this case now? Absolutely."

Despite saying it's been years since new information came in on the case, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office still won't discuss what led up to the destruction of 511 homes in Black Forest. The fire also killed two people.

Pfoff is positive the fire was human-caused, adding there was no lightning in the area, and says theories that a flicked cigarette butt caused it are wrong, as the road is too far from the point of origin.

During the early days of the investigation, Pfoff says investigators looked in the opposite direction of the wind that day in 2013.

"We just started walking basically into the wind, and we ran across a house that was being remodeled."

Pfoff won't point out which specific home it is but says the sheriff's office has all the information in its evidence locker.

"I won't for legal reasons, because if I mention any names, they could sue me for libel or slander."

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has never publicly revealed anything about the home in question.

But Pfoff said in 2013, investigators quickly noticed something off about one home in the area, which was being remodeled at the time. 

"One of the things that we found that was very interesting was the fact that there was no dumpster at that location. They were not using a dumpster, they were burning all of their old wood."

Pfoff said there were slash piles right behind the home too. He believes a fire from the home could reach the piles and easily add fuel.

Pfoff then wrote and executed a search warrant of the home, going in with a team of detectives to collect evidence.

"There was a great deal of evidence that supported that some embers could have come from that fireplace and it could have easily reached those piles."

He said the Black Forest Fire started in the fireplace of that home, easily reaching the piles of firewood, and getting out of control. 

"We went up onto the roof and collected the spark arrestor. It had two flues and only one flue actually had a spark arrestor that was not properly installed. The other one was completely open and when we went inside and looked at the fireplace, which had brick all the way to the ceiling, you could see soot all the way to the ceiling, which suggests a very roaring fire in that fireplace."

Pfoff claims that when he handed the search warrant to the homeowner, he asked him if he would be willing to sit down and answer questions about the fire.

"He lawyered up immediately and said that he did not want to speak with us at all concerning the fire," Pfoff says.

The former El Paso County Investigator now believes that there are less than six possible people who could have possibly started the Black Forest Fire, saying it was either the owner of the property or whoever he hired to do the remodeling.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has repeatedly declined KRDO's multiple requests for interviews.

At Pfoff's suggestion, KRDO submitted a public records request for time cards related to the fire investigation in the last five years. But the sheriff's office told KRDO it doesn't track time cards by cases.

Still, Pfoff is confident his theory is right, saying the sheriff's office hasn't pursued the case closely enough because it doesn't have enough staffing to do so.

"I don't believe in their investigation, they could narrow it down to specifically to who on that day and at that time had a fire going in that fireplace."

Pfoff believes his comments to KRDO are not jeopardizing the sheriff's office case, adding that after 10 years, it's time the people of Black Forest know the truth.

"I'm not jeopardizing anything. Because the bottom line is - they're not doing anything."

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Spencer Soicher

Spencer is the weekend evening anchor, and a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about him here.


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