Vehicles evacuate westward through Sultan as road closures and evacuations mount in response to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. 2 near Sultan, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Vehicles evacuate westward through Sultan as road closures and evacuations mount in response to the Bolt Creek Fire on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022, on U.S. 2 near Sultan, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

As wildfires creep west of Cascades, county plans for next Bolt Creek

Wildfires are an increasing concern in Snohomish County. A new project aims to develop a better plan.

EVERETT — Agencies in Snohomish County are crafting a new countywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan to help them be even better prepared for the next big wildfire.

In early May, the federal government gave the county’s Department of Emergency Management $250,000 to work on the plan. The project aims to identify where wildland firefighting resources are, where terrain (or other factors) makes fighting fires or evacuating residents difficult, and how to streamline fuel management.

“We want to kind of come up with something we can all agree to, and that has public support, so that we are holistically managing the fire risk within the county,” said Lucia Schmit, the county’s emergency management director.

The plan will also look at evacuation routes and other information that could help agencies make quick decisions when dealing with a fast-moving fire.

Local, state and regional plans for responding to a large fire already exist under the FEMA standardized Incident Management Structure. The protection plan would inform the local response.

The wildfire protection plan will also be attached to the county’s larger hazard mitigation plan. It would split the county into geographic areas, to pinpoint each region’s needs.

Snohomish County’s Planning and Resilience Program coordinator, Amy Lucas, said wildfire surveys will be sent out to residents in those “annexes.” The responses will go to local fire chiefs, who can then use that information as they see fit.

One thing that surprised Lucas was how few local farmers have enough trailer space to move livestock. That’s just one example of the information emergency management officials can use to plan. Helping the public create defensible space around their homes is another.

“We can give those metrics to each fire chief saying, ‘You know, this is the preparedness level of your community,’ so that they can know really what they need to focus on,” Lucas said.

Fire and emergency management officials have been pushing for a countywide fire mitigation plan since the Bolt Creek fire in 2022.

While countywide mitigation will be a first, Sky Valley Fire already has a protection plan for its district. Generally regarded as one of Snohomish County’s foremost wildfire experts, Sky Valley Fire Chief Eric Andrews has helped lead the project.

Before Bolt Creek, he said, there wasn’t nearly as much interest in wildfire plans among fire agencies and the public. But there is now.

“Now they see these fires getting bigger and becoming more prevalent, where they can go into other fire districts and stuff,” Andrews said. “They’re all getting a little more concerned. So having us all on the same page — I mean, that’s basically it for all of us, we want to be on the same page.”

Wildfires are happening earlier each year, Andrews noted. Serious fires have already burned in Skagit County in 2024. That is not normal, he said.

“That was a regional mobilization and that’s never happened,” Andrews said. “Never happened. I don’t ever remember that happening on the west side (of the Cascades) in this time frame.”

Beyond getting everyone on the same page, the fire plan will open up opportunities for more federal money. For example, funding for vehicles specifically equipped to fight wildland fires is a possibility, as is money for educating the public.

“It could be a specific fuel-mitigation project that goes on in my fire district, it could be a joint program,” said Seth Johnson, fire chief for Fire District 5 in Sultan. “We could share some risk with our neighboring fire districts, and there’s potential for partnership.”

Fire officials hope the Snohomish County Council can adopt a plan by the end of the year.

“What I’m hoping to come out of it,” Schmit said, “is just some agreed-upon thing we can all work on together.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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