An elderly couple who played their home next to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado were confirmed dead Wednesday night in a wildfire that exploded in size, the sheriff said Friday.
The bodies of Lyle and Marilyn Hilleman, aged 86 and 84, were recovered Friday, Grand County Sheriff Brett Shrotlin said. Video statement.
The couple, who said they were married at a young age, honeymooned in 1952 and then bought property outside Grand Lake, refused to vacate on Wednesday evening as the East Troublesome Fire increased to more than 100,000 acres.
The rapid rise of the fire triggered emergency evacuation warnings for the entire town of Grand Lake and other communities.
Shrotlin called it “a catastrophic event in our small community,” affecting Grand Lake, other subdivisions of North Grand County, and the national park.
There were no other people missing in the blaze, Shrotlin said. Damage assessment continues.
Emergency responders who assisted with the evacuation efforts met with the fire front, forcing many people out of the area, the sheriff said, and they returned several times to continue the evacuation efforts.
The couple spoke to their son on Wednesday evening and the family said in a statement read by the sheriff that they were adamant about staying. The couple considered the property to be “heaven on earth”.
The East Troublesome Fire, which began Oct. 14 north of Hot Sulfur Springs, was at 188,079 acres on Friday, up 4 percent, fire officials said.
It was one of several large wildfires that burned or are still burning in Colorado this year The three largest in the history of the registered state.
The Cameron Peak fire, burning west of Fort Collins, was the largest and burned 206,977 acres and accounted for 60 percent of Friday’s fire, according to the Interagency Inc. Web Information website. The fire started on August 13.
East Troublesome Fire is the second largest. The pine gulch fire, which erupted and burned 139,000 acres, is the largest, but most complete, in recorded state history.
Shroetlin read a statement from the Hillemans family in which they stated that they were adamant that they would not leave the property.
They called their son and his siblings and asked them to let them know they were in their basement and safe, the family statement read by the sheriff said.
Marilyn saw the smell of smoke on her phone, the family said. The son called the siblings and tried to call the parents back but there was no answer, and on Thursday, it was confirmed that the house had been destroyed.
“But our parents left this world and comforted our family according to their own rules,” the family statement said. “They leave behind a legacy of hard work and determination to overcome – Grand County needs everyone.”
This year wildfires have erupted across the western United States, burning millions of acres in California, destroying 9,000 homes and other structures and killing 31 people.
In Oregon, more than a million acres were burned, more than 4,000 homes were destroyed and nine people died.