Summit County opens lodging for East Troublesome Fire evacuees
DILLON — Summit County is pitching in to help shelter evacuees of the East Troublesome Fire burning in Grand County.
The East Troublesome Fire rapidly grew to more than 170,000 acres this week, spurring widespread evacuations across Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs, Granby and other areas of Grand County affected by the giant blaze. As Grand County and American Red Cross officials work to find sufficient lodging for displaced individuals, Summit County is helping to carry the load.
“The Red Cross regionally has a lot on their hands,” said Brian Bovaird, Summit County’s emergency management director. “Grand County hasn’t given us an accurate count on how many evacuees they have. But all of their lodging got filled up pretty quickly, and obviously there’s a chance that those locations may need to be evacuated as well, depending on the fire behavior. So they reached out to me to see if we had any availability to help with shelter.”
Work is already in motion to get evacuation sites set up in Summit County, Bovaird said. The Summit County Office of Emergency Management set up an evacuation reception center Thursday at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, where evacuees can check in with Red Cross personnel for placement into local hotel rooms.
Of note, evacuations look different this year than in past emergencies in the area. Typically, officials will set up larger, congregate shelters, where evacuees can gather by the hundreds until they’re able to return home or find alternative arrangements. But due to COVID-19, officials are opening up noncongregate sheltering options throughout the county, primarily in hotel rooms.
Bovaird said 14 Grand County residents were sheltered in Summit County on Thursday night. Evacuees will be checked in at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, where they will be set up with a hotel room and provided with three meals a day. Officials on-site also will help make sure evacuees have proper clothing and necessary medications.
Evacuees will be checked into a credentialing system, which will allow officials to collect their names, contact information and addresses. Bovaird said the system is useful for Grand residents who might be allowed to temporarily reenter evacuation areas in the coming days or weeks.
“When we had the Buffalo Fire and all those evacuations, we used that system to credential evacuees,” Bovaird said. “There was a point in time where the mandatory evacuations weren’t lifted, but the sheriff was able to say, ‘If you’re in this section of the evacuated area, you can go in for a period and check on your property and get any belongings you want out of your house.’
“That’s what those credentials are really useful for. There’s a checkpoint where the sheriff’s office can scan people in and verify that they’re evacuees. And then when they’re up there, they have an accurate count of who is in the area. So if conditions change, they’ll know if everyone has left the perimeter or if there’s anyone still in there.”
Bovaird said the county is also ready to hand over control of its Emergency Operations Center to fire managers if necessary. The Grand County Emergency Operations Center is active, but Bovaird said officials would evacuate back to Summit County if the fire passes a “trigger point.”
“That’s not an imminent threat we’re planning for (Friday),” Bovaird said. “But given the explosive nature of that fire, who knows?”
The Red Cross is footing the bill for food and hotel bookings, a hefty financial burden given the scope of operations in the area. The American Red Cross of Western Colorado, which serves Summit and Grand counties, among others, is supporting four evacuation centers, and is approaching 1,500 clients to house.
Other local organizations are taking action to help, as well. At the joint Summit County Board of Health special work session Thursday, Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said The Summit Foundation was making a $10,000 donation to The Grand Foundation’s Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund. The commissioners decided to make a matching donation from Summit County.
“I would ask that we make a donation from the county,” Lawrence said. “I understand that there are a lot of reimbursements that come along with these things, but towns burning down, especially resort communities, it’s just a little different. I would hope that, through the county, we would do that. I’m happy to take on the ask with our ski areas, as well as all of our towns, to join along with us to make a contribution to our neighbors. I certainly think if we were in the same situation, I would want Grand County and Eagle County and others to step up and work with us as well.”
Anyone looking to contribute to relief efforts can donate to the Grand County Wildfire Emergency Fund at GrandFoundation.com or to the American Red Cross of Western Colorado at RedCross.org/local/colorado.
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