A firefighting helicopter carries a bucket of water from a nearby river Saturday to the Bolt Creek Fire on U.S. 2 near Index. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A firefighting helicopter carries a bucket of water from a nearby river Saturday to the Bolt Creek Fire on U.S. 2 near Index. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Bolt Creek wildfire grows to nearly 8,000 acres; US 2 closed indefinitely

Evacuation orders remained in place. Only 50% of residents asked to leave had gone, according to the sheriff’s office.

INDEX — The Bolt Creek wildfire grew to nearly 8,000 acres Sunday, forcing evacuations and threatening hundreds of homes along U.S. 2, authorities said Sunday.

The highway — a main route through the Cascades — was expected to remain closed west of Stevens Pass well past the weekend. Sultan schools were set to be closed Monday.

Evacuation warnings remained in place Sunday for residents nearby. The towns of Index and Skykomish, as well as areas north of U.S. 2 between them, were at a Level 3 evacuation warning, meaning “go now.” Index’s warning increased to Level 3 around 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Only about 50% of residents had heeded evacuation notices, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Sunday.

Emergency responders from numerous agencies work together at the Bolt Creek Fire incident command inside a barn on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Emergency responders from numerous agencies work together at the Bolt Creek Fire incident command inside a barn on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“We ask that they reconsider,” the sheriff’s office wrote. “The fire remains active. We need everybody’s help protecting lives today.”

The fire erupted around 5 a.m. Saturday just north of Skykomish and west of Beckler River, sending a rainfall of ash west across Puget Sound. As the sun set, it glowed red in a smoky haze.

By the evening, the fire was estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 acres. The state Department of Natural Resources updated the estimated size Sunday morning, as the haze lingered around Snohomish County.

‘Completely charred’

About 500 firefighters from across Washington have responded to help battle the flames, Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue spokesperson Peter Mongillo said. Among those on the fire lines were incarcerated people from the Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

Crews worked overnight to remove fuel near homes in the Grotto area.

As of Sunday afternoon, the fire was still moving northwest, Mongillo said, adding that U.S. 2 would remain closed for a “significant” amount of time.

“Unfortunately, the landscape of U.S. 2 is going to look a lot different for people driving across,” he said. “Some of the mountainside is completely charred — all of the trees and everything are blackened.”

By Saturday night, the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe had been turned into a sea of tents and RVs as fire crews and evacuees filed in. The following morning, a handful of firefighters unpacked blankets from their trucks and hopped into tents to get some rest — the first chance they’d had to sleep in over 24 hours.

At 9 a.m. Sunday, Michael Long rolled up to the fairgrounds with his Lake Stevens-based catering crew, Old Truck Grill. Long and a couple other workers set up a food stand outside the disaster response headquarters. They heated up fixings and began slinging burritos.

A line quickly formed. Firefighters, U.S. Forest Service rangers, law enforcement, Red Cross officials, Department of Emergency Management crew members and hungry volunteers waited for a bite.

Michael Long, who runs Old Truck Barbecue part time out of Lake Stevens, prepares bbq chicken burritos for emergency responders on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. Long and two of his sons, Jonathan and Anthony, were expecting to feed roughly 400 people on Sunday. Long said he wanted to help during the Bolt Creek Fire because his parents lost their Oregon home to a wildfire two years ago and he wants to show emergency responders his appreciation for the work they do. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Michael Long, who runs Old Truck Barbecue part time out of Lake Stevens, prepares bbq chicken burritos for emergency responders on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. Long and two of his sons, Jonathan and Anthony, were expecting to feed roughly 400 people on Sunday. Long said he wanted to help during the Bolt Creek Fire because his parents lost their Oregon home to a wildfire two years ago and he wants to show emergency responders his appreciation for the work they do. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Long said they packed enough meat, rice, salsa and cheese to prepare 400 burritos for crews, free of charge.

“The best thing about things like this,” Long said, “is people get together and help out. That’s the silver lining in any tragedy: You figure out who your family really is.”

‘Ghost town’

On Saturday night, Virginia Held and her husband were among those who evacuated from the Index area. They turned the back of their sedan into a chicken coop: five chickens in the car, six in a makeshift wire enclosure covered with a tent’s rain fly, in front of the Startup Event Center.

“Our neighborhood up there turned into a ghost town,” Held said. “Almost everyone evacuated. You don’t want to get stuck up there, because if it gets worse, you’re kind of on your own.”

Held said she was grateful for the hospitality and support in Sultan. The facility has bathrooms open all night, as well as a refrigerator full of food, water and Gatorade.

On Sunday evening, Lee Miller walked into Rico’s Pizza in Gold Bar and ordered some wings before sitting down in a red booth under the neon open sign in the window.

Miller, 74, is a longtime Gold Bar local who lives behind Rico’s. He said he was not bothered by the poor air quality, because he builds bonfires “10 times as smoky.” He said he will pack some clothes and his medication, but skip town only if things get too crazy.

“I’m not going to leave unless there’s a reason to,” Miller said. “I’m not going to keep myself awake at night. But at the same time, there’s nothing here that important that I’m going to stay and die for it.”

About 250 structures were directly threatened by the fire “as it sits right now,” said Rich Elliott, an operations chief on the Bolt Fire, in a morning briefing. Firefighting efforts had been divided into four divisions: Alpha, Papa, Sierra and Tango. Most of the energy was concentrated on the middle two divisions, to protect homes in the Baring and Grotto areas, while also building a contingency line in the west, in case the fire advances toward Index, Elliott said.

Firefighters were aiming to essentially push the fire north, into the wilderness.

A Level 2 evacuation warning, meaning “be set to go,” remained in place Sunday for people between Zeke’s Drive-In (east of Gold Bar) and Index. A Level 1 warning, meaning “be ready,” was in place from Zeke’s to the Gold Bar city limits.

Two hikers fleeing from Barclay Lake were in contact with law enforcement by cell phone Saturday, as they tried to hike out. The hikers were able to get out of the area hours later and were reported safe, Mongillo said.

‘The worst we’ve ever seen’

Traffic on I-90 was expected to be backed up for the foreseeable future, because of detouring traffic from both Stevens Pass and White Pass, where the Goat Rocks fire closed U.S. 12, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Drivers in the state can monitor road closures via an online map updated by the DOT.

BNSF Railway on Saturday indefinitely suspended train routes through the Skykomish Valley, Mongillo said.

Fire officials were worried burning timber will ignite Bonneville Power Administration electricity wires, he added. Power outages were reported between Baring and Index, according to Snohomish PUD.

From left, Mary Ayers and Robin Araniva deliver donated wood shavings for animal bedding with the help of Randy Hoyt and Todd McNeal of the Snohomish County Parks Department on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

From left, Mary Ayers and Robin Araniva deliver donated wood shavings for animal bedding with the help of Randy Hoyt and Todd McNeal of the Snohomish County Parks Department on Sunday, Sep. 11, 2022, at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

An estimated 80% of the burning land is federally owned, 10% is owned by the state and 10% is privately owned, Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Scott North said.

“It’s been a very long time since Snohomish County has seen a major wildfire,” North said. “Based on the volume of this one, it’s probably going to be the worst we’ve ever seen.”

Resources

Snohomish County officials set up a website with resources at bit.ly/3LYpl9O.

Shelters for westbound evacuees:

• Evergreen State Fairgrounds, 14405 179th Ave. SE, Monroe. The Red Cross is stationed there, and shelter, food and showers are available. There is also outdoor space for people with campers and room for livestock to shelter.

• Crosswater Community Church, 202 Birch St., Sultan.

• The Startup Event Center, 14315 366th Ave. SE, Startup.

• Gold Bar City Hall (limited space), 107 5th St., Gold Bar.

The Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce was coordinating efforts to help residents who need to move livestock. For information, call Debbie Copple at 425-238-2651.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; ellen.dennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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