An elderly couple who cherished their home next to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park were confirmed dead in a wildfire that exploded in size Wednesday evening, the sheriff said Friday.
The bodies of Lyle and Marilyn Hileman, 86 and 84 years old, were recovered Friday, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin said in a video statement.
The couple, who the family said married at a young age, honeymooned in the area in 1952, and then bought the property outside Grand Lake, refused to evacuate as the East Troublesome Fire grew by more than 100,000 acres Wednesday evening.
The fire’s rapid growth prompted urgent evacuation warnings for the entire town of Grand Lake and other communities.
Schroetlin called it “a catastrophic event in our small community” that affected Grand Lake, other subdivisions in northern Grand County and the national park.
There are no other missing people in the fire, Schroetlin said. Damage assessments are ongoing.
Emergency responders helping with evacuation efforts were met with a fire front that forced many from the area, the sheriff said, and they returned several times to continue evacuation efforts.
The couple spoke with their son Wednesday evening and were adamant about staying, the family said in a statement read by the sheriff. The couple considered the property “heaven on earth.”
The East Troublesome Fire, which began Oct. 14 north of Hot Sulphur Springs, was at 188,079 acres Friday and 4 percent contained, fire officials said.
It is one of several large wildfires that have burned or are still burning in Colorado this year, which include three of the largest in recorded state history.
The Cameron Peak Fire, burning west of Fort Collins, is the largest and has burned 206,977 acres and was 60 percent contained Friday, according to the interagency InciWeb fire information website. The fire began Aug. 13.
The East Troublesome Fire is the second largest. The Pine Gulch Fire, which was sparked by lightning and burned around 139,000 acres, had been the largest in recorded state history but has been entirely contained.
Schroetlin read a statement from the Hilemans’ family in which they described the couple as being adamant that they would not leave the property.
They asked their son to call his siblings and let them know that they were in their basement and felt safe, the family statement read by the sheriff said.
Marilyn said on the phone she smelled smoke, the family said. The son called siblings and tried to call his parents back but got no answer, and on Thursday, confirmation came that the home was destroyed.
“But our family feels comfort in the knowledge our parents left this world together and on their own terms,” the family statement said. “They leave a legacy of hard work and determination to overcome — something all of Grand County will need.”
Wildfires have raged across the Western United States this year, burning millions of acres in California, destroying more than 9,000 homes and other structures and killing 31 people.
In Oregon, more than one million acres have burned, more than 4,000 homes were destroyed, and nine people died.