Here’s an in-depth report about the East Troublesome fire from Jesse Paul that’s running in the The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole article, it is a terrific bit of writing. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Sun interviewed about a dozen firefighters, first responders and evacuees to piece together a timeline of the East Troublesome fire’s terrifying 100,000-acre run on Oct. 21
Grand Lake Fire Marshal Dan Mayer was horrified.
In a matter of minutes, the East Troublesome fire had transformed his community into an unrecognizable hellscape. Homes were burning all around him. Hundreds of spot fires threatened more structures. Embers and smoke were blowing by in what seemed like hurricane-force winds.
The fire was so intense that Mayer was forced to flee along with scores of civilians and other first responders as the inferno — perhaps the fastest-moving in Colorado history — made its initial pass through the high-altitude vacation community of Grand Lake. ..
The Colorado Sun interviewed about a dozen firefighters, first responders and evacuees to piece together a timeline of the East Troublesome fire’s terrifying run on Oct. 21, the day it became one of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history, burning more than 100,000 acres in a matter of hours and consuming more than 300 homes…
The accounts provided to The Sun reveal just how dire the situation became within a short span, and just how narrowly many people and homes escaped death and destruction. Within two hours, the East Troublesome blaze had turned from a docile foe into an unstoppable force, prompting evacuations over an area so large that authorities thought it would take hours to get everyone out. They had about 90 minutes.
A mix of paid and volunteer firefighters from a few small Grand County departments were on their own to try to save their community. Some of their own homes were destroyed in the flames.
Todd Holzwarth, chief of the East Grand Fire Protection District in Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash, said firefighters took a major risk. “I told my guys, ‘You have engaged a fire that, under most circumstances, what everybody does is back off, get into safe areas and get their cameras out,’” Holzwarth said.
It’s not totally clear what happened, but firefighters now believe the smoke column that was building over the fire all day suddenly collapsed, sending a rush of air downwards and shooting flames out in every direction toward fuels that were tinder-dry after a summer of climate-change-driven drought.
Baumgarten said the firestorm reminded him of a weather event in Grand County a few years ago that sent damaging microbursts from Kremmling to Grand Lake…
The first fire engines arrived in the Trail Creek Estates neighborhood between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Crews quickly realized there was little they could do. The fire was moving too fast and was too intense for them to actually battle it.
“By the time our engines got to the area, they couldn’t get in,” White said, calling the fire behavior “pretty chaotic.”
Sagebrush in the subdivision was burning so intensely that the shrubs put off 10-to-15-foot flames. The fire was also racing through the crowns of lodgepole pine.
“In some areas the fire seemed to be at ground level,” White said. “In other areas it was in the canopy and throwing off a lot of heat.”
The operation quickly moved from structure protection to evacuation. Crew gave up on using their fire engines to battle the flames and instead started using them to get people out of the fire’s path.