DENVER,CO – A new wildfire in the foothills southwest of Denver forced the evacuation of dozens of homes Wednesday as hot and windy conditions 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 were told to leave, but no structures appeared to be threatened, Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said.
"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 in high winds Wednesday. The U.S. Forest Service estimated it was burning on 500 acres.
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 wildfire in Prescott National Forest that has scorched nearly 8 square miles and was zero percent contained. It erupted Tuesday afternoon and led to the evacuation of 460 homes.
Smoke from another fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon was visible from Grand Canyon National Park. It had burned about 60 acres, and no structures were immediately threatened.
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 at home vacuuming when her husband called, saying he had received an alert on his cellphone telling the family to leave. The 34-year-old said she quickly left the house.
She grabbed her 6-year-old daughter's favorite blanket, 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 as she arrived 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.
The C-130s had just finished duty 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.
Authorities said Marc and Robin Herklotz were killed as that 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.
Other fires around Colorado were also putting up thick clouds of smoke.
In western Colorado, a wind-driven wildfire near 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.
Evacuations also were ordered due to a wildfire in rural Huerfano County in southern Colorado.
Back in Evergreen, Pytel was asked whether Wednesday's evacuation has changed their minds about living in a mountainous area at high risk for wildfires.
"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.