Weekend snow that blanketed two major wildfires burning in the mountains gave firefighters a much-needed break and allowed authorities to open Grand Lake proper to home and business owners eager to inspect their properties.
Security roadblocks were taken down Monday evening, allowing access through Highway 34 to Grand Lake and on Highway 40 to Kremmling.
The return was bittersweet for some. Above and outside of this tourist town, vast swaths of forested mountains have been charred by the East Troublesome fire. A boil water order went into effect on Monday. And everyone is being told to throw out all perishable food — in homes and restaurants — because the area has been without electricity for almost a week.
"We lost pretty much all our product," said Chris Stine, the owner of Bighorn Bagels in Grand Lake, on Tuesday.
He and his wife were in the middle of cleaning out all their refrigeration units and throwing the food away. The only thing left for sale were bags of potato chips on a rack by the counter.
"My wife and son and I were all home when the evacuation order came. Traffic was being directed directly out of town. We loaded up basically what we could grab and left. It was very scary," Stine said. "We could see flames on the ridges as we were leaving."
The East Troublesome fire started on Oct. 14 in the mountains near Hot Sulphur Springs northwest of Granby. Last Wednesday, high winds pushed the blaze into overdrive across parched grassland, sage and pine and by that evening Grand Lake went from pre-evacuation preparations to mandatory evacuation in about 15 minutes.
Flames worked their way into areas west of town, but firefighters made a hard stand that night that spared downtown and other neighborhoods.
Authorities still have blocked access to Rocky Mountain National Park's west entrance, and all the communities immediately west of Grand Lake and Highway 34 as firefighters accompany utility and home inspectors as they investigate the damage from the fire.
The Stine's house is among those on the west side of the highway and they can't get to it yet. Stine believes it is still standing, but he knows the power went out so he doesn't know what kind of shape their place is in.
Bart Lone, who owns the Grand Lake Wine and Spirits, and his wife Jeanette, live east of the highway. Both of their businesses — she owns the quilting shop next door — were spared, as was their home. "A lot of disinformation" led him to think the worst, he said.
"Thursday when we got up it looked like everything was gone," Lone said. "But we just held on, and waited for the official word."
On top of the snow, temperatures in and around the fire in Grand County dipped as low as minus 15 degrees — enough to chill the fire's growth, but not enough to put it out, fire officials say. Temps are expected to climb into the 50s in the area later in the week.
Officials say the East Troublesome fire has burned 192,560 acres and is 20 percent contained. Most of that containment is on the west side of the Continental Divide.
To the north, the Cameron Peak fire was also slowed by snow and frigid temperatures. Highway 14 from Fort Collins to Walden has been reopened after being closed almost since the time that the fire began in August.
The fire has burned more than 400 structures, about half of which were homes. It is 64 percent contained and has burned more than 208,000 acres — the largest wildfire in recorded state history.
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