Couple confirmed dead in East Troublesome fire; family says they “left this world together and on their own terms”
The Grand County sheriff confirmed late Friday that an elderly couple who’d refused to evacuate as the East Troublesome fire advanced on Grand Lake this week perished in the wildfire, the first fatalities linked to what is now the second-largest fire on record in Colorado.
Sheriff Brett Schroetlin announced in a Facebook video that the bodies of Lyle and Marylin Hileman, 86 and 84, respectively, were recovered earlier in the day from the site of their destroyed home just outside Grand Lake.
I loving memory, Lyle and Marylin Hileman. Your family loves you and misses you, and will go forward with the love, dedication, kindness, and strength you taught to us. pic.twitter.com/iNyrBVDDUL
— Taebear :: PalehornTea (@PalehornTea) October 23, 2020
As the wildfire exploded Wednesday night, threatening Grand Lake, authorities and friends tried to get the Hilemans to leave, Schroetlin said.
“This couple had been contacted and actually refused to evacuate, wanting to stay with the house that they’d had for many years in their family,” he said.
The sheriff read from a family statement, which said the Hilemans had married at a young age, and honeymooned in the Grand Lake area in 1952. Later they bought a property adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park.
“The property became a lifelong mission to create ‘heaven on earth,’ to which family, friends and strangers who quickly became friends would be drawn,” the family said in their statement.
The Hilemans called their son on Wednesday night as flames approached the house. “They were calm, resolute and adamant, they would not leave,” the family said. The couple retreated to their basement, where they felt safe. But before hanging up the phone, Marylin Hileman told her son they smelled smoke.
Family members tried calling back, Schroetlin said, but nobody picked up. Late Thursday night, the family received confirmation the Hilemans’ home was destroyed. Friday, their bodies were discovered.
“Our family feels comfort in the knowledge our parents left this world together and on their own terms,” the family said in its statement. “They leave a legacy of hard work and a determination to overcome, something all of Grand County will need.”
With the recovery of the Hilemans’ bodies, Schroetlin said there no longer are any missing persons connected to the fire.
“I’m extremely saddened to learn that two people have now died in the #EastTroublesomeFire,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a tweet late Thursday night. “My heart goes out to the family and friends of Lyle and Marilyn Hileman.”
The East Troublesome fire had burned 188,079 acres — or nearly 294 square miles — as of Friday evening, forcing thousands of people to evacuate from Grand Lake to Estes Park. It’s now the No. 1 firefighting priority in the nation.