Grand Lake residents determined to rebuild community following East Troublesome Fire

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GRAND LAKE, Colo. (KDVR) — After burning for more than six weeks, the East Troublesome Fire is finally out. 

The fire burned 192,560 acres, becoming the second-largest wildfire in Colorado history. 

Firefighters reached 100% containment on Dec. 1.

“When people hear the fire is 100% contained, it’s not over,” Grand Lake resident Kami Gilmour told FOX31. 

Now begins a new phase for everyone who lost a home, knows someone who lost a home or calls Grand Lake home. 

“Driving into Grand Lake, it just looks like you’re driving through a haunted forest,” a customer at Sagebrush BBQ & Grill said. 

While indoor dining was still allowed, the restaurant became an unofficial rendezvous point after the fire. 

“People were hanging out just talking about what happened and kind of crying on each other’s shoulders,” owner David Freeman said. 

His tables are the only ones some in Grand Lake have left. 

“I think we lost about 380 homes, somewhere in that range,” Freeman said. 

Gilmour was there the night hers burned down.

“I went out to the back porch and the roar that I heard, it was an audible, it sounded like a tornado and like a fire in a fireplace. It was the loudest, it was not wind, it was fire,” she said. 

Freeman’s family got out by driving through the blockades in Rocky Mountain National Park. She recalled seeing herds of animals running on the road to escape the smoke. 

Two neighbors, Lyle and Marilyn Hileman, died in the fire. 

“It’s hard to find words for it,” Freeman said.

Most of the homes in the Sun Valley Ranch neighborhood were lost.

“The tangle of metal, the charred pieces,” Gilmour said. “You start seeing the ruins of everything — every dish that’s broken.”

Almost all of the vegetation is gone.

“Every time we came here last summer we saw moose and deer,” another neighbor told FOX31. “I don’t know how long it’ll be now.”

The neighborhood is far from empty, though. It is filled with heavy machinery clearing out debris from properties. 

As people begin to pick up the pieces, they are exposing deep roots the community didn’t realize it had. 

“Now that we have nothing, our land is bare, our trees are down, the walls are down and the guard is down and people who’ve never spoken to each other, we’re now staying at each other’s [other] houses,” Gilmour said. 

Her family has a newfound friendship with her neighbor Michael McCormick, who also lost his home. 

“Probably the first eight times I drove in here I sobbed and I spent my first night in my car, I just didn’t want to leave. Yeah, it’s devastating,” he said. 

McCormick had just finished building his dream home for retirement in July. He only got to live in it for three months before the East Troublesome Fire destroyed it and everything else on his several acres. 

Now that the debris has been cleared from his land, McCormick is setting his sights on the future. 

“I’ve gone out, I bought a bunch of wildflowers here and today I think on all 15 acres I’m going to go around and seed all these wildflowers,” he said. 

Kami and several other neighbors volunteered to pitch in, forming a line up a hill defining the community boundary. Together, they passed buckets of seeds to spread. 

The main goal is to prevent erosion and mudslides on the barren land. The other goal is to try to bring beauty back to the place. 

“It’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be great,” McCormick said. 

Through the bond the neighbors have with each other and the love for the land, they are determined to bring Grand Lake back to life. 

“Nature is resilient and that’s what we have to look forward to,” McCormick said. 

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