Oct. 14, 2021

One Year Later: Partners Reflect on East Troublesome Fire Recovery

Joint Press Release

One year ago today, Oct. 14, 2021, firefighters responded to a smoke report in the East Troublesome area of the Arapaho National Forest north of Hot Sulphur Springs. Fighting the fire in extraordinarily difficult terrain amidst shifting winds and historically dry and warm conditions with limited resources created enormous challenges, and the fire grew rapidly, repeatedly crossing containment lines as it grew east toward Colo. Highway 125.

One week later, exhibiting behavior unlike anything scientists and fire managers had ever seen, the fire crossed Colo. 125 and made a 20-mile run across northern Grand County, burning 589 homes and structures and taking two lives before jumping the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and heading toward the Town of Estes Park.


A winter storm Oct. 25 brought very cold temperatures and snow, resulting in a dramatic drop in fire behavior with smoldering and reduced fire spread on both sides of the Continental Divide. The fire was declared contained on Nov. 30, 2020. At 193,892 acres, East Troublesome is the state’s second largest fire in history. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

As Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reflected on the firestorm and resulting devastation from the East Troublesome Fire, he shared, “I am humbled by the strength of the people that make up the Grand County community and their resilience to persevere through the last twelve months of their very personal recovery.” 

In the 12 months since these devastating events, recovery teams, land managers and water providers have turned their attention to post wildfire emergency response and recovery efforts. A collaborative stakeholder group continues to meet monthly to discuss priorities, challenges, and successes; and to protect their critical source water infrastructure. This collaborative recovery group includes Grand County, Northern Water, the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and Bureau of Reclamation among others.

Aerial mulching, water monitoring, utility infrastructure protections, and stabilizing and reopening trails and roads has been a critical part of the work.  

“In the weeks and months following the East Troublesome Fire, Northern Water recognized the significant impacts the fire would have on the Upper Colorado River watershed, which is the source of water for more than 1 million residents in Northeastern Colorado,” said Esther Vincent, Director of Environmental Services for Northern Water. “That’s why we partnered with Grand County to be the local sponsors for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

Using funds through the federal EWP Program, matched with money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water and Grand County have worked with private landowners and other public agencies to develop projects that would protect human life and property in the burn area. To date, this effort has focused on more than 5,000 acres of aerial seeding and mulching and installing debris booms to protect key water infrastructure during summer monsoon events. More work is planned in 2022, and the effects of the fire on the watershed will be felt for years to come.

“A vast portion of the burned area was Arapaho National Forest lands that are a critical part of the Grand County tourism and recreation economy,” said acting Sulphur District Ranger Kevin McLaughlin. “Our focus has been on reopening as much of our road and trail system as we safely can.”

Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews spent the summer working with partners, collaborators, and hundreds of volunteers coordinated through Grand Lake Trailgrooming Inc. and Headwaters Trails Alliance to cut more than 10,000 burnt, broken and fallen trees from 120 miles of trails. Crews also dug hundreds of drainage bars to prevent trail washouts and hundreds of miles of roads were reopened after road crews worked to stabilize them.

“This has been a truly massive undertaking to this point and there is an incredible amount of work yet to be done,” McLaughlin said, noting that an estimated 50 to 70 bridges, boardwalks and turnpikes burned in the fire and all need to be replaced next year in addition to various campground infrastructure that burned and roads that were impacted by the monsoons this summer. “We wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we have without our partners, and we look forward to continued collaboration on fire recovery in the years to come.”

The Grand County Board of Commissioners released this statement: “On the anniversary the worst disaster in recent Grand County history, the Commissioners would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the emergency agencies, volunteers, organizations, and companies that helped our community survive, recover and rebuild. While there is still recovery work to be done, we have no doubt the strength and resilience of our Grand community will see us through.”

To commemorate the anniversary of the East Troublesome Fire, the Grand Lake Chamber has planned two events at Grand Lake Town Park: “We gather to Acknowledge” at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 with a moment of silence followed by the ringing of a bell to acknowledge the night we left our homes; and “We gather to remember” at 11 a.m. Oct. 23, which includes a free Community lunch, local music, a community art piece, and an opportunity to thank first responders over a shared meal.