Grand Lake community gathers to remember East Troublesome Fire on 1-year anniversary

Amy Golden
SkyHi News
Grand Lake Chamber Director Emily Hagen and Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron introduce the Troublesome Stories exhibit June 23. The mayor credited the exhibit with helping the Grand Lake community to heal in the year after the East Troublesome Fire.
McKenna Harford/Sky-Hi News

GRANBY — One year ago, the East Troublesome Fire raced across Grand County in an event that few believed could ever happen.

It began Oct. 14, sparked near Big Horn Park, and the wildfire seemed relatively harmless until the perfect set of circumstances — an abundance of dry fuels, high winds and a smoke column collapse — ballooned the fire’s perimeter from 38,436 acres to 125,588 acres overnight and sent flames hurling toward Grand Lake.

Anything in the corridor from Colorado Highway 125 to U.S. Highway 34 was caught in the destructive fire’s path. By the time it was done, the Troublesome fire had killed two people and burned more than 500 homes and buildings.

Because the fire grew so rapidly, massive evacuations were issued with little to no notice. People collected what they could carry and made haste down Highway 34 to Granby, Fraser, Winter Park and beyond, not knowing if there would be anything for them to return to.

For many, the wounds are still fresh. They will never forget the Troublesome fire — how it sounded like a jet engine coming at Grand Lake, or the ominous red glow that hung over Grand County that night.

Some homes haven’t been rebuilt and many belongings can never be replaced. For the owners, these were more than homes: They were people’s lives. In the case of the East Troublesome Fire, the charred landscape isn’t the only scar Grand County is trying to heal.

A year ago, Grand Lake sat empty as almost everyone fled.

No one knew what would be left — their favorite trail, their house, their town. It could all be gone. Grand Lake was still standing, though much of its surrounding community was devastated. The emotional and physical trauma of that night lingers.

The town has spent the year healing, but Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron said it’s a strange feeling on the anniversary.

“I didn’t lose any physical things. I didn’t lose a family member. I am truly blessed to be a here a year later with everything that I had a year ago,” Kudron said. “I feel for those that don’t, but I can’t understand or think to understand the depth of that pain.”

Economically, the town has seen a strong recovery over the past year. Grand Lake Town Manager John Crone said sales tax receipts are looking to be $800,000 higher than the previous record.

But that’s not the only way he measures recovery.

“Emotionally, socially, it’s been a long, hard process,” Crone said. “A lot of people are still kind of traumatized and feeling pain about this all.”

Grand Lake is bringing together the community Saturday, Oct. 23, for a meal thanking first responders. Crone and Kudron acknowledge that some aren’t ready to relive the events, but Grand Lake will be providing a space for those who find healing in togetherness.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, center, talks to Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron, left, and Town Manager John Crone on May 23 in Grand Lake about the East Troublesome Fire damage and ongoing recovery efforts.
McKenna Harford/Sky-Hi News

Grand Lake was also able to bring back events this year, celebrating the Fourth of July, Buffalo Days and the new Troublesome Fest. Both men credit these events with helping in the healing process along with the Troublesome Stories exhibit.

“It truly has been a place of healing for so many and a place of understanding for so many others,” Kudron said. “I don’t know how well we could’ve answered those questions without Troublesome Stories and without all the work (everyone did).”

Along with the trauma of last year, the fear of another wildfire lingers in Grand Lake.

“In many ways, it seems that it was just yesterday that this all happened,” Crone said. “You know, I just worry. I worry about things I didn’t think I’d be worrying about before. We’re relatively safe from fire danger right now, but every single day I think about it.”

Kudron hopes businesses and locals get a chance to breathe and slow down heading into the winter. Once the snow falls, he is looking to find the sense of normalcy that was lost last year.

“If we could take a pause from the worldwide crises, I think that would be just OK,” Kudron said with a laugh. “We all came up to Grand Lake to get away from some of the mess that exists everywhere else, and I hope to get back to that real soon.”

Healing will take much longer than a year. There’s still properties to clean up and community members who need help.

As the physical burn scar fades, town leaders in Grand Lake plan to continue nursing the less visible ones.

“To everyone out there, we’re all still here for you,” Crone said. “We all understand that this is a personal and emotional issue for many people. Just because a year has gone by, doesn’t mean that we’re not still here for you.”

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