Published Wednesday, June 19, 2013 | 1:38 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, June 19, 2013 | 5:55 p.m.
EVERGREEN, Colo. — 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 and elsewhere in the West made it easy for fires to start and spread.
The Lime Gulch Fire in Pike National Forest was small but devouring trees about 30 miles southwest of Denver in southern Jefferson County. More than 100 people within three miles of the fire were ordered to leave, but no structures appeared to be threatened, Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said. The evacuation order was later extended to the unincorporated township of Buffalo Creek.
"The good news is, it's a very sparsely populated area as far as houses go," Mink said.
He said the fire might have been sparked by lightning a day earlier, then quickly grew to an estimated 150 to 200 acres Wednesday in high winds.
The fire zone was in steep, heavily forested mountain terrain, south of where last year's Lower North Fork Fire damaged and destroyed 23 homes and killed three people. That fire was triggered by a prescribed burn that escaped containment lines.
The blaze came as up to 600 Arizona firefighters battled a nearly eight-square-mile wildfire in Prescott National Forest that was zero percent contained. It erupted Tuesday afternoon and led to the evacuation of 460 homes. A large blaze in New Mexico, meanwhile, charred southern New Mexico's Gila National Forest and grew to 47 square miles.
In Colorado, some evacuees said they were ready to leave Wednesday in minutes, having practiced fire evacuations after last year's Lower North Fork Fire.
Karalyn Pytel was home vacuuming with her 6-year-old daughter when her husband reached her to notify her they needed to leave. The 34-year-old said she and her daughter were out of the house quickly.
She grabbed her daughter's favorite blanket, plus a laptop computer, a jewelry box and some family heirlooms.
"I grabbed a laundry basket and just threw stuff in it. I don't even know what clothes they are," Pytel said while filling out paperwork at an evacuation center.
Two U.S. Air Force Reserve C-130s arrived quickly to drop slurry around the fire in Colorado. The specially-equipped cargo planes, attached to the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, were operating out of Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in suburban Denver, said Airlift Wing spokeswoman Ann Skarban at Peterson.
The C-130s had just finished duty on Sunday fighting a 22-square-mile wildfire near Colorado Springs that destroyed 509 homes and killed two people. More than 960 fire personnel at the Black Forest Fire contended with wind gusts Wednesday as they tried to contain the fire and find and extinguish hot spots.
In Black Forest, northeast of Colorado Springs, authorities said Marc and Robin Herklotz were killed as the fire erupted June 11. Their bodies were found in their garage by a car, as if they were trying to flee, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa has said.
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. Marc Herklotz entered the Air Force in 1983 but most recently was working as a civilian employee. Robin Herklotz was an Air Force contractor.
Also Wednesday, in western Colorado, a wind-driven wildfire southeast of Rangely prompted the evacuation of a youth camp as a precaution. Rio Blanco County Undersheriff Michael Joos said the camp wasn't in immediate danger, but about 40 kids and a half dozen adults were asked to leave due to high winds.
Back in Evergreen, Pytel was asked whether Wednesday's evacuation has made her rethink living in a mountainous area at high risk for wildfires. Pytel said her family discussed moving after last year's wildfire but dismissed the idea.
"No matter where you go, really, it's always something. It's either a tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake (or) a fire. For us, it's our tornado," Pytel said.