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6 months later, Grand County starts to rebuild from East Troublesome Fire

The fire tore through Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving scars on one of the most beautiful parts of the state.

GRAND COUNTY, Colo. — The forests sit quietly now, but the scars on Grand County are still fresh.

One house at a time, they are rebuilding from the East Troublesome Fire that tore through Colorado, destroying hundreds of homes, half a year ago.  

“It’s like a tornado is the best way I can put it together,” said Matt Reed-Tolonen, a Grand County resident who lost his home in the fire. “It’s like it picked and choosed and I don’t know why it chose us. But it did.”

In the shadows of the ash and the char and the memories of last October, the sounds of recovery bring back hope to a part of Colorado ready to rebuild.

“We’re strong. We’re resilient. We’re not going anywhere,” said Reed. “Take it all with 14 minutes notice, and we’re coming back better than before.”

The Reed-Tolonen family built their dream home in Grand Lake by hand. It took years to design and build up. The East Troublesome Fire took it in a matter of minutes.

Half a year later, they are one of the first in the area to clean up the ashes and roll in the construction crews.

“It’s all up from here, I guess,” Reed said in an interview with 9News in March. “We’ve lost everything. We have nothing else to lose. It is what it is. We can’t change that part; all we can do is control the future and make it better than what it was.”

Less than 6 months after the flames destroyed a dream, they are building their dream home back up.

They started early in the middle of winter. It wasn’t easy, but the March snow was no match for a deadline that can’t be missed.

When the fire destroyed the home, they’d been building for years, and it brought with it a lot of questions that are hard to answer for their four-year-old daughter.

“Does the easter bunny know where I’m at? Does Santa Claus know where I’m at? If we can make it by this Christmas, he’ll know where she’s at and where she’s going to be at for a long time. That’s the goal,” said Reed. “Reason being Christmas is my daughter turned four right after Christmas this year. Now she’s been in a different home for three Christmases.”

In March, the home still didn’t look much like a house yet. But it’s so much closer than that October day when a hundred thousand acres of Grand County went up in flames overnight.

“Six months later, I can remember this spot precisely and the emotion that goes along with it,” said Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin as he looked at a burn scar on a hillside outside Grand Lake. “We lost over 370 residential structures. That’s 370 families that had to find a different place to stay for the winter. Now they’re working on rebuilding.”

The hillside burned, and as the fire crossed over the highway, the wind sent it barreling straight towards the town of Grand Lake.

For much of the past six months, Grand County has been covered in snow. With spring comes a new opportunity to move forward. Radios are being delivered to areas without cell phone service. Trees with beetle kill are being cleared out. New plans are formulated for the next time a fire starts burning.

“A small community, we all live together, we grow together, and we grieve together,” said Schroetlin. “With every incident, you always learn something. With that, our county is going through the process right now of creating evacuation plans for all events including fire.”

Dealing with insurance and high building costs has slowed down the process. Not everyone in Grand County has chosen to rebuild. But for those who have, the sounds of recovery drown out the silence left by the flames.

“Saws and nail guns. It’s exciting,” said Reed in an interview in April. “It’s fun again. As long as we don’t get anymore snow.”

With time, a burned-out piece of land is starting to look a lot more like home again. The frame of the Reed-Tolonen house is already up.

More than half a year after the fire, the focus is off the flames and back on the more important things in life, especially when you have a four-year-old daughter. 

“She’s picking out her butterfly chandelier right now and figuring out what wall she wants to paint a rainbow on,” said Reed. “Those are her big choices.”

Those colors should look pretty good, framed by a view; not even a fire can destroy.

“You can see the fire outline pretty good,” Reed said, looking out from a window outline in what will soon be his new master bedroom.  “But you can see right past it too.”

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