ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
DENVER — A new wildfire in the foothills southwest of Denver forced the evacuation of dozens of homes Wednesday as hot and windy conditions in much of Colorado were making it easy for new fires to start and spread.
The new fire burning near Pine was small, but it was still a concern because it was producing large flames and headed toward a ridge.
The fire began in an area of the Pike National Forest that is not heavily populated but dotted with cabins and homes along the few roads.
Residents within 3 miles of the fire were told to leave immediately, and calls went to more than 400 telephone numbers, Jefferson County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said.
The area about 30 miles southwest of Denver was hit last year by the Lower North Fork Fire, which grew from a prescribed burn on state land to destroy or damage 23 homes and leave three people dead. The latest fire is about 4 miles away.
Firefighters faced temperatures in the 80s and winds gusting to nearly 30 mph as they also worked to contain a wildfire near Colorado Springs that has destroyed more than 500 homes since it broke out June 11.
That blaze also killed a married couple, identified Tuesday as Marc and Robin Herklotz. Their bodies were found in their garage by their car, as if they were trying to flee, the El Paso County sheriff has said.
The couple’s neighbor Bob Schmidt said he had received a call June 11 telling him to leave immediately, but that the Herklotzes said they did not get such a call. Their homes lay just outside the mandatory evacuation boundary announced on Twitter by the El Paso County at 3:34 p.m. that day. The zone was expanded to include Jicarilla Drive two hours later.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said someone had spoken to the Herklotzes on the phone at about 5 p.m. and heard a popping sound — most likely the fire racing through the thick trees.
Their house was about 4 miles northeast of where the fire was initially reported around 1 p.m.
Marc Herklotz, 52, and Robin Herklotz, 50, worked at Air Force Space Command, which operates military satellites, and were based at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the Air Force said in a written statement. He entered the Air Force in 1983 but most recently was working as a civilian employee, and his wife was an Air Force contractor.
The couple lived in a three-bedroom house assessed at $281,000, according to property records. Schmidt said the Herklotzes were fixtures in the area, walking their dog every night and coming by to get eggs laid by Schmidts’ chickens kept. A few weeks ago, he said, they worked filling in potholes on the narrow dirt cul de sac where they all lived.
“They loved the forest,” Schmidt said of the couple.
The Black Forest Fire has burned on more than 22 square miles. It was 85 percent contained Wednesday, and crews are hoping to have it fully contained Thursday. However, expected high winds and hot weather across much of Colorado as well as the Southwest will test the work firefighters have done to put out hot spots to and prevent flare ups that could endanger over 3,500 homes still standing in the area.
“We look forward to the test because it’s one we’ve been preparing for all week,” incident commander Rich Harvey said.
Investigators continued searching for clues to what started the wildfire. Authorities don’t believe natural causes are to blame but haven’t elaborated on a possible cause.
They concentrated on a 40-by-40-foot area but haven’t said whether they think the fire was started accidentally or on purpose.
In California, officials said it was an unattended campfire near a main route into Yosemite National Park that grew into a blaze that led to the evacuations of 1,500 people. About 400 to 500 remained evacuated Wednesday. Crews have stopped the fire’s forward progress and it was about 40 percent contained.
About 600 firefighters were battling a nearly-8-square-mile wildfire in Arizona’s Prescott National Forest. Residents of about 460 homes have been told to evacuate because of the Doce Fire, which began Tuesday.