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East Troublesome Fire survivors waiting years to rebuild

The lack of builders in rural Grand County can be attributed to the massive need for builders in Boulder County after the Marshall Fire

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — Losing a home in a wildfire has become far too common in Colorado. How quickly people recover depends on where they live. 

As the race begins to rebuild entire neighborhoods in Boulder County after the Marshall Fire, recovery has been much slower in Grand County where the East Troublesome Fire destroyed nearly 400 homes two years ago.

"This used to be our garage. We had a concrete slab right here," Julie Knauf said, pointing to a pile of dirt next to a big hole where her home used to sit. "I just never expected that I would still be looking at a hole in the ground at this stage in the game."

New trees and bushes shield the scars of the East Troublesome Fire on the mountainside. Growth is slower where Knauf’s home used to be.

"It’s just a big hole in the ground," Knauf said, holding back tears. 

Two years later, home is an RV sitting on her burned property.

"I never thought at this point I’d be looking at at least another year and a half," Knauf said. "If we’re lucky, we can build next spring. We can get started, if we’re lucky."

After the fire, Julie and her husband moved into a rental property. The insurance money ran out.

"Insurance expects that you should be able to be living in your rebuilt home in two years," Knauf said. "There’s absolutely no way that we can make that deadline."

The East Troublesome Fire destroyed 390 structures in October of 2020. Two years later, only 124 permits have been issued to people wanting to rebuild.

"Over half of the people who lost their homes still have not even started construction yet," Steve Jensen with Mountain Top Builders said. He's the former President of Grand County Builders Association.

There are few builders and construction crews in rural Grand County. When the Marshall Fire destroyed a thousand homes in Boulder County last year, all the builders that used to come up from the metro area to help relocated to jobs along the front range.

"If in the past we maybe had the opportunity to pull some trades and vendors from the front range to help with our building efforts up here, that’s really shifted the focus to dealing with what’s going on in their own backyard," Jensen said. 

Hundreds of people like Knauf want to rebuild, but can’t.

"There are companies that we’ve talked to and worked with that are two years out already. A lot of people that did get it done would hire from the front range to come out here and get their stuff done. Those builders aren’t available," Knauf said. "I never expected to be living in a camper on property that is still not much further than it was when the fire happened."

It’s estimated about 80% of East Troublesome Survivors are planning to rebuild, meaning more than half of the people who lost their homes and want to rebuild still have not even started construction yet, two years after the fire.  

"It is a beautiful place," Knauf said. "We have a beautiful place. Hopefully we just get to make it beautiful again. It’ll be our home. Hopefully."

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