US Forest Service: Cause of East Troublesome Fire remains undetermined

The East Troublesome Fire is seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on Oct. 21 as the fire ripped across Grand County.
Courtesy Andrew Lussie / US Forest Service

Officials with the US Forest Service are refuting reports they’re close to pinpointing what or who caused the massive East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.

On Friday, a US Forest Service spokesperson reiterated that the investigation has revealed the fire was “human-caused” but said there is no word yet on exactly what started the deadly blaze.

“There is no update to the investigation,” she said. “The investigation is still in progress.”

Multiple people have contacted the Sky-Hi News in recent days saying that investigators are close to filing charges. However, the USFS spokesperson said that investigators are still interviewing potential witnesses and gathering information, and they are not making any announcements about a cause at this moment.

She said the US Forest Service, which is handling the investigation, does not have any new information.

The fire was reported on Oct. 14 in the Troublesome basin, a popular area for hunting, camping and other outdoor activities. The blaze remained relatively small until Oct. 21, when the right set of conditions turned it into a historic event.

The fire then raced over 100,000 acres in a day, quickly threatening the town of Grand Lake and destroying hundreds of homes and buildings in the surrounding area, in addition to along the Colorado Highway 125 corridor between Colorado 125 and US Highway 34.

The fire soon grew into Rocky Mountain National Park, burning more than 27 square miles of land at the park, and spot fires jumped the Continental Divide approaching Estes Park before they were contained. Snowfall on Oct. 24 quieted the flames, but the destruction was widespread.

A chimney is all that's left of this building at The Winding River Ranch north of Grand Lake after it was destroyed in the East Troublesome Fire.
Eli Pace /

Altogether, the fire burned almost 200,000 acres, making it the largest ever in Grand County and second biggest in Colorado. An elderly couple, Lyle and Marylin Hileman, died when the fire consumed their home.

As many locals seek answers about what caused the fire, the county continues to grapple with recovery efforts and major flooding concerns remain along the burned out areas with Grand County heading into the spring.

If anyone is charged in relation to the Troublesome fire, the penalties could be steep.

In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned over 130,000 acres and killed six people, including five firefighters. At the time, it was the biggest fire in state history, and it was later traced back to Forest Service worker Terry Barton, who started the blaze in a campsite fire ring during a fire ban.

Barton pleaded guilty to setting fire to federal forest land and lying to investigators, and she received a six-year sentence in federal prison. In March 2008, after spending years behind bars, Barton was resentenced to 15 years on probation and 1,000 hours community service.

In 2018, Barton’s sentence was extended with another 15 years of unsupervised probation, and Barton was ordered to continue making payments toward the millions of dollars she still owed in restitution.

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