GRAND LAKE, Colo. (CBS4) – Residents of Grand Lake returned to town temporarily Monday night and spent Tuesday cleaning up what was left from the East Troublesome Fire. While their businesses remained in place, the smoke and loss of power created many setbacks.

“We have no idea when they’re going to let us back in,” said Chris Stein, the owner of Bighorn Bagels. “We’re just trying to get through one day at a time. We stopped by a couple of evacuation shelters trying to get food.”

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His family had to throw out all the food that spoiled during the power outage. They also had to clear out the smoke from inside. But they’ve seen their home from the highway and they know it survived the fire. They live in a neighborhood that remains under a mandatory evacuation zone.

“We’re discovering it’s a sad day. We’re here because pretty much have to throw everything out,” said Leona Goettel, the owner of Jump Start Coffee and Tea Shop. “A lot of the community has stopped by just to share well wishes and hugs and tears and talk about what we’re all going though.”

Goettel says she has never experienced anything like this, she has run the business in town for almost five years now. She remembers getting the knock on the door to evacuate and seeing the fire along the highway. She hopes to get her shop ready for locals to get the break from their cleanup and enjoy coffee and a snack again.

“This was terrifying, I was in the shower and I had someone come barging through my door and said ‘Get out, get out now!’” she told CBS4 on Tuesday. “Even though we’re devastated and our hearts are broken, it’s showing us what a community we have, big family and family support.”

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The town was quiet Tuesday afternoon as residents returned. Surrounded by snow and the smell of smoke, they are reminded of the challenges the past week has brought them but they are ready for the work ahead. Stein says dealing with it all at once can be tough. He is a retired firefighter and knows the work being done for this community.

“It’s extremely overwhelming, it’s hard to come into Grand Lake see the hillsides burnt. We’re doing out best,” he told CBS4.
“Let’s get it back to where it was. It’s a beautiful place. That’s why we moved here.”

Both businesses hope to make progress in the next few days to open by Saturday. They want visitors to show their love for the town in the weeks ahead by spending time and money in town when they can.

“It’s actually inspiring and it gives me hope that we’re all going to come out of this together,” Goettel said. “It just shows what kind of community we have and what amazing people are up here.”

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The East Troublesome Fire is the second largest wildfire in recorded Colorado history at 192,560 acres. It started on Oct. 14 in a manner that remains under investigation, and on Oct. 21 it exploded in heavy winds and dry conditions, burning an unprecedented 100,000 acres in single day as it moved eastward across Grand County. It roared past Grand Lake and into the national park, crossing the Continental Divide in the process and creating a spot fire that led to evacuations for the Estes Park area.

Shawn Chitnis