“There’s no way they would have left,” Glenn Hileman said.
There were flurries of conflicting posts on neighborhood social media groups about whether the couple had made it out as the fire grew by 100,000 acres that night. Firefighters told the family they had tried to take a bulldozer up to the house to reach them, but were blocked by fallen trees and flames. On Friday morning, family members said they had gotten confirmation from local authorities that the Hilemans’ house had been incinerated.
“They’ve never been apart, ever,” Glenn Hileman said. “I don’t think either of them could’ve had an idea of leaving this world apart. They were going to survive it together or they were not. Either way, they were going to do it together.”
Late Friday night, Sheriff Schroetlin confirmed their deaths.
A granddaughter, Stephanie Hileman, recalled her 86-year-old grandfather, a retired Denver firefighter, as a jokester who rose before dawn to plow snow or build fences on the property he loved and spent nearly 50 years cultivating. She said her 84-year-old grandmother was a “Wonder Woman” who had worked in a mental-health facility and kept an ever-growing collection of 40 candy bowls out for guests.
“It was heartbreaking,” Stephanie Hileman said.
Firefighters are now in a race with nature, trying to limit the fire’s spread and its toll as a wintry system is expected to move into Colorado’s high country Saturday night with rain changing to heavy snow by Sunday. Sunday night’s temperatures in the Grand Lake area are forecast to plunge to 7 below, and forecasters expect up to a foot of snow.
Evan Direnzo, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Boulder, where firefighters have now largely contained two fires that erupted this past weekend, said even a thick quilt of snow might not be enough to quench the fires.
“They can just simmer under there for a long time,” he said, recalling how the Cameron Peak Fire burning north of Rocky Mountain National Park had survived an early-September blizzard. “People were going out and digging under the snow and there was fire under it. It was just chilling, waiting to come back.”