Grand Lake sudden evacuation : “I remember telling him to look back because I don’t think we’re coming back because it was so unimaginable to see it–basically what looked like a tidal wave of flames rushing right at us and everything we knew and loved,” Emily Hagen recalled.
When she spoke to Rocky Mountain PBS, Hagen was emotional in her voice as she realized how close her town was to destruction.
“And thinking about being here a year later,” she added, “talking to you and not losing our home, it’s very, very incredible.”
Hagen like many other residents of the village located in Grand Lake, has come far in his recovery after the East Troublesome Fire tore through the town a year ago. However, there is the possibility of more healing.
The East Troublesome Fire was first announced on October 14, 2020. The fire started in the northeastern part of Kremmling which is about a 45-minute drive away from Grand Lake. As any mountain community can tell you, reports of wildfires close to the lake are not unheard of but there was no real feeling of panic in Grand Lake until October 21 in 2020.
“I was there that night and it occurred. It was like something from the movie. It was very eerie.” Thomas Cooper said.
Cooper is a photographer who has been covering storms and wildfires in Colorado for over two decades. Based on his experience, and instruction in safety and technical aspects of wildfires and protective gear Cooper was able to photograph various wildfires during October of 2020. It was a season of wildfires unlike anything Coloradans have never experienced and with numerous large wildfires that were burning simultaneously towards the end of the season.
“I generally was watching various fires. I was headed toward Cameron Peak. Cameron Peak Fire when the CalWood Fire from Boulder came to a head. The moment that it happened, it was just right in my view. I was able to cover for the CalWood Fire for, you say two days or something similar to that. Then I heard the radio talking regarding was it was that the East Troublesome Fire was doing and the speed at which they were moving.” Cooper recalled.
In the afternoon of the 21st of October, 2020 the winds picked up speed in ways that altered the life of hundreds.
“I’ve heard now after the fact that we had winds clocking at 120 mile an hour gusts, which if you can even think about that, it’s small tornadic winds,” Cooper explained. Cooper.
In less than two days, the fire expanded by 187,964 acres from 18,550 to. It crossed Highway 125 and rapidly spread eastwards into Rocky Mountain National Park. This was when Grand Lake was in very serious danger.
In a matter of minutes residents had to depart their homes as well as all of their valuable possessions behind. In some instances, residents tried their best to keep their homes.
“I saw hoses that were laid out and people’s last-ditch effort to try to spray down their house before the fire came through,” Cooper recalls. “This fire’s coming through and you’re grabbing a hose to soak your house down and then leave and just pray for the best.”
Cooper was also in the area to record what nobody else could have seen.
“One of the photos that I had shot a picture of–I think it was like a garage or a barn or some kind of small structure was burning, but in the background, their house was still there,” Cooper. Cooper. “And when they looked at this,, and they were crying since they knew”We lost a garage that was small and an outbuilding however, we didn’t lose our house. ‘”
The fire eventually became too intense that Cooper had to go also. The fire went through something that Cooper never believed could be possible and traversed the continent. The fire grew across the western part of Estes Park and was already under evacuation warnings in close by Cameron Peak Fire. Fortunately, the worst was prevented and the two fires didn’t get as mixed as fire officials believed. The city located in Estes Park was not affected however to the opposite side of the line, Grand County suffered tremendous losses. More than 500 buildings were destroyed and two persons were killed during the inferno.
Regrowth and recovery after the East Troublesome Fire