Damage assessment teams have so far identified about 100 homes that were destroyed last week by the East Troublesome fire, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said Tuesday.
But he cautioned that the teams still “have a lot more to do.”
“We’re finding more (destroyed homes) every direction that we turn,” he said.
Schroetlin’s comments, made during a community briefing on Tuesday morning, represent the first real glimpse into the destruction caused by the massive blaze, which made a 100,000-acre plus run across Grand County last week into Rocky Mountain National Park.
Schroetlin said a lot of the devastation happened in the Columbine Lake area and along county roads 48, 49 and 41. “Those areas have significant impacts,” he said.
Homes and businesses in the town of Grand Lake were not destroyed by the fire.
Schroetlin said snowfall on Sunday and Monday has made damage assessment efforts more difficult, covering up debris and making properties difficult to navigate.
“The snow is not helping us at all out there,” he said.
Also complicating the damage assessment effort is the fact that many houses in the burn area are or were second homes. The Grand County Sheriff’s Office is asking property owners to fill out a form with their contact information to streamline the damage and destruction notification process.
Damage assessment efforts could not begin until the fire danger was reduced, which didn’t happen until Sunday.
Vicky Winterscheidt said her family lost the vacation home they’ve owned for 10 years.
It was on County Road 4955 near the Grand Lake Golf Course, and just steps from the Colorado River. She and her husband had been living in the house during the coronavirus crisis because they found it easier to isolate in the mountains than in Greenwood Village.
They evacuated about 30 minutes before the home burned.Video from neighbors’ cameras showed them the flames arrived not long after they hurried out of the area.
“At that point, you could hear the fire coming,” she said. “It sounded like a train or a jet or something. We couldn’t see the fire at that point, but you could hear it. You could hear the snapping and the roar.”
Winterscheidt was emotional as she described the house’s meaning to her family.
“We have three children from the ages of 34 to 28 and they are spread literally around the world,” she said. “Our daughter lives in Australia. We knew that if our kids came home, they wouldn’t necessarily want to come to Greenwood Village. They’d want to come to the mountains. We really bought the place in Grand Lake as, like, ‘kid bait.’ It really has turned into that.”
One child was married at the Grand Lake Lodge, which barely survived the fire. Another was engaged on Berthoud Pass near Winter Park.
Winterscheidt estimates that 25 of the 30 homes in her neighborhood were destroyed. “Almost to a person, every person said they are planning to rebuild,” she said, relaying information from an email chain.
Her family, too, is planning to build a new home.
The East Troublesome fire, which began on Oct. 14 near Kremmling, has burned nearly 200,000 acres and is the second-largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history. It is 20% contained.
The fire killed two people: Lyle and Marilyn Hileman, who were both in their mid 80s and refused to evacuate when the fire came through, according to authorities. They lived just northeast of Grand Lake.
The fire’s cause remains under investigation, but authorities preliminarily believe it was started by a person or people.
The bulk of the destruction, as well as the two fatalities, happened between Oct. 21 and Oct. 23, when the fire made its epic run across Grand County and threatened Estes Park. Fire experts say they’ve never seen anything like the expansion the fire had on those days.
The snow has helped slow the fire, but officials say it likely won’t be enough to put the blaze out.
“This is not a season-ending event, necessarily,” said Noel Livingston, the East Troublesome fire’s incident commander. “But it’s certainly a season-slowing event.”
Livingston said fuels in and around the burn zone were extremely dry, which is why the threat still looms.
“The snow that came in on Sunday was a blessing and we’ve really been trying to take advantage of that,” he added.