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Gazette Premium Content House where couple, Air Force Space Command employees died was in heart of worst-hit area of Black Forest fire

By Daniel Chacon Updated: June 19, 2013 at 7:07 am

Marc Allen Herklotz and Robin Lauran Herklotz were identified Tuesday as the Black Forest couple who died in their garage as their neighborhood was incinerated by fire.

Marc Herklotz, 52, and Robin Herklotz, 50, both worked at the Space Innovation and Development Center at Schriever Air Force Base.

The news came as containment of the fire increased to 85 percent, and residents along the worst hit areas were either allowed to return home or visit to see what was left. The number of destroyed houses rose from 502 to 509, and those with partial damage went from 18 to 28, according to the sheriff's loss assessment website.

The Herklotz's lived at 6720 Jicarilla Drive - in the center of the area hit hardest by the fire.

Marc Herklotz was an Air Force civilian employee and his wife was an Air Force contractor.

The Air Force said they were both longtime members of Air Force Space Command, supporting critical air, space and cyberspace missions from Schriever.

"The men and women of Air Force Space Command are saddened by the loss of these two members of our AFSPC family," Gen. William L. Shelton, AFSPC commander, said in a statement. "I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Marc and Robin during this very difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you."

Herklotz joined the Air Force in 1983 and served with the 2nd Satellite Control Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base until 1987. He returned to the Air Force as a civilian employee in 1996 and most recently worked at Schriever in the Innovation Division of the Air, Space and Cyberspace Operations Directorate of AFSPC, the Air Force said.

Robin Herklotz, whose maiden name was Johnson, was a 1984 graduate of the Air Force Academy and worked for a government contractor as a systems engineer in the same office as her husband.

At a noon press conference on Tuesday, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said the coroner's office had "very little to work with" and had to get additional medical records to help with the identification. He said authorities wanted to be sure they had a positive identification before releasing the victims' names.

"We're talking about a fire that they estimate reached 2,500 degrees, and it burned for a long period of time," he said.

"We extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends they leave behind," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement when the names were released.

Doug Ransom, president of the Pikes Peak Radio Control Club, said Marc Herklotz was a member and that he would generally see him every week.

"He was a nice guy. He was a guy who would give you the shirt off his back," Ransom said.

Herklotz often flew small, unmanned aircraft there with his son, Patrick. Ransom said he was incredibly knowledgeable about the airplanes and would always help other members tinker with and fix their planes.

"Going out of the way for someone was an everyday thing for him," Ransom said.

Robin Herklotz would come to the airfield with her son and husband, and would sit in the car reading a book and watch her family, he added.

The Herklotzes purchased their 2.67-acre parcel of land on Jicarilla Drive in 1992, where they built their 2,500-square-foot home that same year, according to the El Paso County Assessor's records. The garage where authorities found the Herklotzes remains was 560 square feet.

Last week, Maketa said it appeared the couple was in their garage when they died.

"The car doors were open as though they were loading or grabbing last-minute things and all indications are from the evidence on scene that they were planning to depart very quickly," Maketa said.

Maketa said investigators talked with people who spoke with the couple as the fire moved toward their home on June 11 - the day the fire started.

The fire started southwest of their home, on the other side of Black Forest Regional Park, and moved northeast, rapidly destroying many of the houses on Holmes Road and Wild Oak Drive, two roads to the west of the Herklotz home.

Jicarilla Drive was surrounded on all sides by intense destruction. All of the seven homes on Jicarilla are listed as destroyed by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The homes on streets surrounding Jicarilla - Coolwell Drive, Elementary Drive and Zuni Lane - were all destroyed by the fire. The sections of Black Forest Road hardest hit by the fire, numbers 12580 to 14140, were near Jicarilla.

To the east of Jicarilla is the Brentwood subdivision, a collection of closely-spaced, 1930s-era cabins that were all but destroyed. This week, the toll in the Brentwood area continues to be assessed.

This central-zone of the fire, of which Jicarilla is a part, is still under mandatory evacuation.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

A U.S. Forest Service expert flew in Monday night to help with the investigation, Maketa said. Investigators are making progress, "but it's certainly something you do not rush," he said.

"That person wanted kind of a fresh set of eyes on it without any briefings as to what we have seen so far," he said. "She wanted to be able to go in without any biases, without any information ahead of time and look at what the scene told her. I describe it as basically a 40-by-40 area. We also have had the assistance of ATF. They have provided some resources."

Maketa said he continues to feel for the people who lost their homes.

"I know they're going through a very difficult time, and I don't want my optimism or that of all of you to overshadow their loss and let them feel forgotten, because they're not forgotten. I drive through that neighborhood every day a couple of times a day and every time I look at a foundation, what I see is somebody losing every memory they ever created that they can never buy, replace or recapture."

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Gazette reporter Ryan Maye Handy contributed to this report.

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Contact Daniel ChacOn: 476-1623 Twitter @danieljchacon Facebook Daniel Chacon

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