East Troublesome Fire: Hundreds of homes destroyed as firefighting efforts eclipse $12.4M
Editor’s note: The Sky-Hi News joined a small, controlled media tour of two damaged areas led by the US Forest Service and fire management team for this story. The tour included only three journalists — a videographer, a photographer and our reporter. Because there were only three slots for the tour, photos, video and reporting was shared among all media outlets that requested them. For the tour, our reporter had to wear safety equipment, abide by all firefighters’ instructions and leave the area immediately after the tour because it was unsafe.
A burned out pickup truck on County Road 4 inside the perimeter of the East Troublesome Fire foreshadowed some of the wreckage caused by Colorado’s second largest fire.
On Sunday, a tour of two of the worst hit areas — the Sun Valley Subdivision and County Road 4 — highlighted the unusual nature of the East Troublesome Fire, which ballooned on Grand County by more than 100,000 acres in a single night.
The fire reduced many homes in the Sun Valley area to a chimney and remnants of their foundation, but tucked away in the neighborhood are a few homes still standing.
Operations Section Chief Brett Thomas said Sunday that the East Troublesome Fire was primarily wind driven, creating conditions where one home could be destroyed while the house next door remained almost untouched.
“You can see that the wind was so horrific, but it kept (the fire) going in one direction,” Thomas said.
He pointed out blackened trees hanging with their tips almost touching the ground as an indication of the strength of the wind when the fire ripped across the landscape.
“It’s not super common to have that sort of intensity,” Thomas added.
Fire officials estimate that the fire destroyed around 500 structures, though the damage assessment is ongoing. No buildings were lost or damaged within the town of Grand Lake proper, but the areas west and north of town were hard hit.
The fire broke out Oct. 14 and raced across Grand County’s landscape on Oct. 21, when the blaze grew by around 20 miles in 24 hours.
The fire has burned 193,774 acres with 37% containment. A spokesperson for the fire management team said it has cost $12.4 million to fight the East Troublesome Fire so far.
Wind also played a major role by limiting the kind of resources crews could use to fight the flames, Thomas explained Sunday.
“When the wind is blowing 30 mph in a dead lodgepole stand, there’s not a lot you can throw at it with aviation assets grounded because of winds,” he said. “The probability of success without a tremendous amount of aviation support is just limited.”
The high winds on Oct. 21 also challenged firefighters on the ground, creating unsafe conditions from the rapid fire spread, as well as overhead trees and power lines.
“The priorities during that event were simply life,” Thomas said.
The Grand Foundation has established the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund to support the needs of Grand County residents who have been evacuated, displaced, or have lost their homes during the Grand County wildfires, and 100% of donations will be distributed locally to those in need.
Officials estimate that about 4,000 people were evacuated from the US Highway 34 and Colorado Highway 125 corridors. A couple from Grand Lake, Lyle and Marilyn Hileman, died in the fire.
While Thomas doesn’t feel like any good resulted from the fire, he said it could have been much worse if it hadn’t been for the quick response of local firefighters and those who came to help through the Mountain Area Mutual Aid plan.
“What was critical to the success is that they had a lot of assets that they were able to embed with us in a very quick fashion,” Thomas said.
With the fire activity mostly quieted down following an Oct. 25 snowstorm, the Type 1 Incident Command team will transition to a Type 3 Incident Command team on Sunday evening.
The largest wildfire in state history, the Cameron Peak Fire, is burning north of the East Troublesome Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire has burned 208,663 acres and is 64% contained.
Meanwhile, reentry efforts continue with the Grand County Sheriff’s Office announcing Sunday night that they hope to get the majority of impacted areas, with the exception of the CO 125 corridor and County Road 491, reopen by noon Monday.
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When the East Troublesome Fire blew up on Grand County, it blew up on all of us.