Third week of Bolt Creek Fire brings challenging conditions, new evacuation warnings

SKYKOMISH, Wash. — Very dry conditions and a red flag warning on Monday are adding to the challenges presented by the Bolt Creek Fire. The blaze that started Sept. 10 is now in its third week, relentlessly burning near Skykomish just west of Stevens Pass.

So far it has scorched more than 11,200 acres and continues to grow. About 150 firefighters are working to slow it down.

The dry conditions led to bumped-up evacuation warnings, just after U.S. Highway 2 fully reopened over the weekend.

Now, evacuation orders are:

The west side of the Money Creek Tunnel to milepost 48 and Forest Service Road 65 are under Level 3 orders — that means you need to leave now.

Skykomish, Baring, Grotto and U.S. 2 east of the Money Creek Tunnel are under a level 2 notice — everyone in those areas should be ready to go in case of an evacuation order.

Crews say that in one section of the fire, flames are slowly creeping down the mountain toward the town of Skykomish.

“It makes us really nervous when it gets closer and down the hill and spot fires are starting,” says Connie Cunningham, who works at LouSkis Deli on the Sky along the highway.

“I’ve been watching it at night through my dandy binoculars. Keeping track of — is that getting lower?” says Federico Seco De Lucena, a Skykomish resident.

Fire crews and emergency management heightened evacuation warnings Sunday for Skykomish, raising it from a level 1 back to a level 2.

Cunningham was at work when those new warnings came in.

“We kind of panicked. We closed down the business and were just kind of a little panicked to go get things at home ready to go,” she says.

Businesses and residents in Skykomish have struggled the past two weeks. Trees along the highway are torched black. Other areas of the roadside forest show branches and leaves dried out by the heat of the flames, turned into kindling.

U.S. 2 was also fully shut down, meaning no mail and no business for shops and restaurants.

“It slowed it way down to nothing. But we stayed open due to the community and firefighters. We want to make sure they’re taken care of,” Cunningham says.

Fire crews are dealing with very dry air and temperatures again in the 80s, unusual for this time of the year.

“Because we didn’t have our relatively humidity rise at night, basically there was no recovery. We didn’t get more moisture, and with that, the fuels are burning faster,” says Lauren Woras, a public information officer for the Bolt Creek Fire and a Bureau of Land Management ranger.

Thankfully, she says the blaze is progressing slowly.

“How much concern is there this fire could jump a containment line?” KIRO7′s Deedee Sun asked.

“At this present moment, there is not high concern. Now with the change in weather, it’s unpredictable, things could change. So we just want the public to be aware and ready. That’s why we went into the level 2 evacuations,” Woras said.

As of Monday afternoon, crews were stationed along Highway 2 to monitor the flames and mop up hot spots. The highway speed limit in the area was reduced to 35 mph, but Woras said drivers were speeding by.

“It makes it super dangerous for them on the side of the highway,” she says. “We still have falling trees and rolling rocks coming down, so we want people to be aware, in a fire area the ground is really unstable,” Woras says.

However, at 10:51 p.m., WSDOT tweeted that crews were closing U.S. 2 between Northeast Old Cascade Highway and Skykomish (milepost 46 to 49) overnight due to the fire treading closer to the road. Officials said they would reassess the situation Tuesday morning. But early Tuesday, WSDOT tweeted that additional mile of the highway was closed, milepost 46 to 50.

The fire crews’ top priority continues to be protecting people and property.

“We may be a little tired, but it’s our passion, and that’s what we want to do out there,” Woras says.

She adds that they have been receiving calls from the community seeking clarification on how much of the fire is contained. She says the way progress for this Western Washington fire is being tracked is different from the typical methods used for Eastern Washington fires.

Crews are about 96% done with their work setting up containment lines, like those along U.S. 2 and other roads, plus mitigating risky areas, but the fire is technically only 7% contained.

“The 7% is the amount of fire that has come up to our control lines. The fire hasn’t come to our control lines yet because of how slowly it’s burning, so we can’t say that it is contained. We say it is controlled with that line,” Woras says.

Woras says crews are also optimistic about the fire outlook, with wet weather expected by midweek.