NBC News reports that the husband and wife, 86-year-old Lyle and 84-year-old Marilyn Hileman, refused to leave their home next to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. They were confirmed dead on Friday after their bodies were recovered.
After marrying at a young age, the couple went on their honeymoon in the area in 1952 and, later, purchased the property outside of Grand Lake. They resisted evacuating their home even when the East Troublesome Fire spread by over 100,000 acres on Wednesday. The fire forced the Grand Lake town and surrounding communities to leave.
Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin called it “a catastrophic event in our small community” in a video statement. No one else went missing from the fire.
The Hilemans talked to their son on Wednesday evening and insisted that they stay. The couple viewed their home as “heaven on earth,” the family said in a statement read by the sheriff. They asked their son to call his siblings and tell them they were in their basement and felt safe.
However, Marilyn told her son that she smelled smoke. After the son called his siblings, he called his parents again but no one answered; It was confirmed on Thursday that the home was consumed in the blaze.
"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."
The East Troublesome Fire, which started on Oct. 14, had burned through 188,079 acres on Friday and was four percent contained. It’s among several large wildfires that are either ongoing or have been put out in Colorado this year. In 2020, the state has experienced three of the largest blazes in recorded state history, with East Troublesome being the second largest.