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Grand County Sheriff organizes volunteers to help winterize mountain homes of fire evacuees

Contractors, plumbers, electricians among group
Posted at 11:25 PM, Oct 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 14:32:41-04

GRANBY, Colo. -- Heavy snow and cold temperatures are a mixed blessing for firefighters and homeowners in the Grand Lake area.

The snow helps moisten tinder dry fuels, but also makes operating fire equipment more challenging.

Owners who have been forced from their homes by the East Troublesome Fire are grateful to see the moisture, but worry big time about the huge drop in temperatures, because it could cause pipes to freeze which would result in more damage.

Many homes that survived the fire are without heat. The power has been shut off, for safety reasons.

Over the weekend, Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin organized a group of "authorized" volunteers to address that concern.

"We partnered with 60 - 80 of our local plumbers and contractors. We briefed them this morning. Officers are accompanying them into the field today, based on requests from the community to do some basic winterization of those homes," he said.

Those volunteers drove past the roadblock on highway 34 and headed up to Grand Lake, with the goal of winterizing the homes of as many evacuees as possible.

"Basically, it's just preventing those pipes from freezing. Doing any quick 10 or 15 minute thing they can do. Just get in and get out," Schroetlin said.

Homeowner Rod Archer told Denver7 on Friday that he was worried about two things, flames and freezing cold.

"We don't know the fate of our property," he said, adding, "if there is still a house there, I know the power is off. I know that it's going to be very cold Sunday, and if I can't get there to winterize the house, the pipes are going to freeze."

He said broken pipes could cause damage reaching upward of $100,000.

The sheriff said it's unsafe to let homeowners back in, but escorted volunteers, touching base with owners, can help shut off main water valves, drain faucets and check electricity.

Joe Kelley and his son, Caleb, are among those who volunteered.

When asked what it means to help neighbors, Kelley replied, "Oh, it's huge. We've been here forever. Only place he's ever lived. So getting in today has been helpful for all of us."

He added there could be multiple benefits.

"We could start learning today, what areas might be safe to let other people back in to their houses."

Son Caleb said it's "definitely pretty cool to help out my community."

He said some of his friends lost homes.

"It's pretty devastating to me, knowing a bunch of my buddies' houses are gone, and their parents have to rebuild...but as long as everyone's safe, that's what really matters," Caleb said.

More than a thousand evacuees have requested winterization help.

The Sheriff said he's not sure they'll be able to get to all of them.

"If we can save half that... then that's better than zero," he said.