GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — A majority of the areas in Grand County affected by the East Troublesome Fire are expected to reopen Monday, allowing residents to see the damage from the massive blaze that ripped into the community on Oct. 20.
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said the temporary re-entry process, which slowly began this weekend, was "incredibly difficult" as the community saw the devastation for the first time.
"I spent the afternoon in these subdivisions, and I can tell you without hesitation that it was a challenging day for me and my fellow first responders as well," Schroetlin said. "I will never forget watching a family return to their house for that first time; parents trying to find anything they can to move forward, children trying to find that favorite toy, and each grieving in their own way."
In total, the fire, now 193,774 acres and 37% contained, destroyed more than 300 residential structures and between 100 and 200 secondary structures, such as barns or garages.
"Each one of these numbers is a friend, family, co-worker, or neighbor with a loss. It is truly unimaginable," Schroetlin said.
As of 10 a.m. Monday, all areas west of Highway 34 will open for re-entry with the exception of north of Rocky Mountain National Park housing area and County Road 491. Areas north of mile marker 5.3 on Highway 125 to mile mark 20, in both directions, will remain closed for utility work.
He said the sheriff's office, along with local fire departments, emergency management, utility companies and road and bridge crews, are working to get residents back into their houses as quickly, but safely, as possible.
Schroetlin said they've had to keep many areas that were directly affected closed, as well as areas "logistically attached" to those places. He thanked the residents who were frustrated with this for their patience.
The goal is to open the majority of the impacted areas by noon Monday, depending on the final assessment by teams Sunday evening and early Monday to ensure those locations are safe.
Anybody with a home in the evacuation area is encouraged to fill out a property verification and notification form so officials can contact you about re-entry instructions and damage notifications. In the past week, many evacuation orders have been downgraded. Click here for an interactive evacuation map.
Incident Commander Dan Gleason said crews will continue to patrol and secure structures in the Grand Lake area and County Road 4. They will also work to put in direct line by Columbine Lake and direct line in the East Inlet Trail up toward RMNP.
The northern part of the fire is unstaffed, with the exception of a small group for structure protection.
The entire southern edge of the fire continues to hold at the fire containment lines, Gleason said. Crews will work to repair and rehab the dozer lines there.
Three of the largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred this year. These are the state's 10 largest wildfires, ranked by acreage:
1. Cameron Peak Fire (2020): 208,663 acres
2. East Troublesome Fire (2020): 193,774 acres
3. Pine Gulch Fire (2020): 139,007 acres
4. Hayman Fire (2002): 137,760 acres
5. Spring Fire (2018): 108,045 acres
6. High Park Fire (2012): 87,284 acres
7. Missionary Ridge Fire (2002): 72,962 acres
8. 416 Fire (2018): 54,000 acres
9. Bridger Fire (2008): 45,800 acres
10. Last Chance Fire (2012): 45,000 acres
Note: The Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center said the West Fork Complex fire, which burned a total of 109,632 acres in 2013, is not included on this list since it involved three separate fires.
The East Troublesome Fire started Oct. 14 and its cause is under investigation. On Oct. 22, Mike Morgan, director of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, said during a press conference that "it is believed it's going to be ruled as human-caused, but ... no determination yet."
Denver7 Gives has started a new fundraising campaign for victims of Colorado's wildfires with all proceeds staying to help our local neighbors. See how you can donate here.