Neighbors: Couple killed in Black Forest fire waited for order to leave

By: Micholas Riccardi The Associated Press
June 19, 2013 Updated: June 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm
photo - A religious statue divides the driveway of a house off Shoup Rd. in the burn area in Black Forest, Monday, June, 17, 2013. The fire was estimated at 75 percent containment by mid-day.
Carol Lawrence,The Gazette
A religious statue divides the driveway of a house off Shoup Rd. in the burn area in Black Forest, Monday, June, 17, 2013. The fire was estimated at 75 percent containment by mid-day. Carol Lawrence,The Gazette  

Bob and Barbara Schmidt dashed to their home June 11 on a dirt road in a heavily wooded area northeast of Colorado Springs as smoke from what would become the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history filled the air.

After quickly grabbing a few items, they spotted their neighbors, Marc and Robin Herklotz, who later died in the Black Forest fire.

"They were sitting on their porch, watching TV," said Bob Schmidt, adding that his wife urged their neighbors to immediately flee as smoke rolled in at 4:35 p.m. on June 11. "They said they'd leave when they needed to."

The neighbor's story adds another layer to the scene at the Herklotz residence that's been described by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

"We do have witnesses that spoke to these two people," Maketa said last week.

"One at around 4:20 and they said that they could see a glow to the west. They were packing their personal belongings, trying to get out," Maketa said. "At 5 o'clock, there's another phone conversation. The person that they were speaking with said he could hear popping and cracking in the background, and they advised that they were leaving right now."

The Herklotzes told the Schmidts they hadn't gotten automated calls from authorities ordering them to evacuate and that, while they were packing and monitoring the approaching blaze on TV, they weren't panicking.

When asked Wednesday whether the couple had received a reverse 911 call, Maketa said the question was irrelevant because witnesses reported the couple was aware of the fire and fleeing.

"I don't know how that neighbor would know what they did receive. We have witnesses talking to them. They knew there was a fire. They actually left work to go in," Maketa said.

"They made the decision to try to collect their property, so I don't know what relevance that is. They were clearly, obviously getting their materials," he said.

"They had had phone conversations with individuals that are key witnesses for us. So, I'm not sure what the neighbor is talking about, and I don't know if it matters. They saw the fire. They admitted they saw it. They saw it coming, and I don't think we need phone calls to tell us when it's time to go. We can all look up and see orange and fire and know it's time to leave," Maketa said.

Maketa also said last week that it appeared the couple was in the garage.

“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,” he said.

On Tuesday, authorities announced that the lone casualties of the Black Forest fire were the Herklotzes, whose bodies were found in their garage on Jicarilla Drive by their car, as if they were trying to flee.

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 at 5:36 p.m.

Marc Allen Herklotz, 52, and Robin Lauran 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 the chickens Schmidt and his wife 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.

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