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The East Troublesome Fire Started One Year Ago Today. Investigators Still Don't Know What Sparked It

(CBS4) - 2020 was an historic year for wildfires in Colorado with three of the largest wildfires in state history. That includes the East Troublesome Fire which is the second largest after it scorched 193,812 acres.

The wildfire in Grand County was reported in the afternoon of Oct. 14, 2020, immediately prompting evacuations in the Big Horn Park northeast of Kremmling.

Its origination point was in the Arapaho National Forest and a year later, the cause is still under investigation.

The fire burned 400 acres within just a matter of hours, then 3,700 acres in a single day amid dry, windy conditions. By Day 3, it had burned more than 10,000 acres and threatened State Highway 125, forcing officials to close it.

Huge amounts of smoke poured into the air from the East Troublesome Fire, prompting health warnings in the Denver metro area and the plume could be seen in Frisco, 70 miles away.

east troublesome cottonwood pass oct 21 (credit Andrew Lussie-Inciweb)
The East Troublesome Fire along Cottonwood Pass on Oct. 21. 2020 (credit: Andrew Lussie/Inciweb)

Crews attacked the flames both from the air and on the ground but the fire continued to grow, forcing the closure of public lands west of Rocky Mountain National Park.

But the situation really grew dire between Oct. 20 and Oct. 23 when the spreading fire went on a four day run, exploding from 18,550 acres to 187,964 acres.

The fire crossed Highway 125 as well as Highway 34 in the area around Grand Lake and spread east into Rocky Mountain National Park, jumping the Continental Divide on Oct. 23. It reached the western edge of Estes Park, which was already threatened by what would become the state's largest wildfire, the Cameron Peak Fire.

During those four days, more than 7,000 structures were threatened with more than 35,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders. Fire managers worried the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires might merge, and while that didn't happen the fires did impact 30,000 acres, or 10% of Rocky Mountain National Park.

East Troublesome Fire
(source: CBS)

Gov. Jared Polis authorized the Colorado National Guard to help with search and rescue operations in Grand County.

A winter storm arrived on Oct. 24 and lasted through Oct. 26. It dropped temperatures dramatically and brought winds along with with a round of much-needed snow. That reduced the fire's spread on both sides of the Continental Divide. The fire was declared contained on Nov. 30, 2020.

Two people -- Lyle and Marilyn Hileman -- died when the fire consumed their home in Grand Lake. A total of 366 homes and 214 other structures were destroyed or damaged.

East Troublesome Fire Burn Area (6)
East Troublesome Fire burn area on Nov. 1, 2020 (credit: CBS)

The East Troublesome burn scar is still prone to increased erosion which has prompted some road closures in the area. The Forest Service says areas that did not have debris flows before the wildfire may now flood.

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