GRAND LAKE, Colo. (CBS4) – First responders gathered with the Grand County community in Grand Lake on Thursday for a moment of silence acknowledging the resiliency of the community. Oct. 21 marks the day the East Troublesome fire grew at its fastest rate– more than 120,000 acres in less than a day. It is now the fastest moving wildfire in U.S. history and the third largest wildfire in Colorado’s recorded history.
Grand Lake Fire Chief Seth St. Germain gave an impassioned speech that drew tears from some. Then the lights went out and everyone paused for 20 seconds to remember the loss followed by the strength that helped the community through the horrific events of last October.
Photojournalist Thomas Cooper was in Grand Lake in the thick of the fire as it began to rapidly spread. He said in his more than 30 years of covering fires, he has never seen one more aggressive.
“You know most fires lay down at night this fire was like I said, just a monster,” he continued, “back in some of the hottest parts of this fire, it’s like somebody dropped a nuclear bomb on it. It was just like trees bowed over. Trees snapped at this far up. And so, from what we know, the winds came through, snapped the trees and then the fire just came through right after that.”
Cooper’s incredible photos now cover the walls of the East Troublesome Fire exhibit in Grand Lake.
“To see, you know, exploding trees and ‘firenados’ like I’ve never seen in other fires, the heat coming off of it — some of the pictures I’ve literally shot were kind of shot over my shoulder, I was wearing all my fire gear and I was photographing some of the stuff but the radiant heat coming off of these fires was so insane, it’s like you couldn’t look at them even with goggles and a shroud over my face,” he said.
A total of 366 homes were lost along with two lives. Lyle and Marilyn Hileman died in their Grand Lake homes on the night of Oct. 21.
Nearly a year later, there are many still struggling to rebuild or even begin the cleanup process.