EVERETT — On Sunday morning, Ben Keith attended a church service in Gold Bar.
Just five minutes after he returned to his home on the South Fork Skykomish River, he said, trees started to fall on U.S. 2.
The route closed — and stay closed for days.
“I was just in time to get in here,” Keith said.
Sections of the highway opened Wednesday, and by Thursday evening it was completely cleared for traffic.
Snow has ravaged Snohomish County since Sunday, but warmer temperatures on Thursday brought melting. Some people who live in the rugged southeast part of the county have been without power since it started.
Showers were in the forecast Friday and heading into the weekend. No more flurries are expected in the lowlands of Snohomish County, said Samantha Borth, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle.
At the foothills in the eastern part of the county, there’s a chance of snow until Saturday, when it’s expected to turn to rain.
Sky Valley Fire has recieved about 10 calls per day, more than three times the normal number. The district covers the rural corridor from Gold Bar to Index to the Snohomish County border. Almost all of the 80 firefighters are volunteers.
“They’ve been putting in extra time, definitely,” Fire Chief Eric Andrews said.
The department has used tracked off-road vehicles to reach remote houses.
Sky Valley Fire has been working closely with King County Fire District 50 and the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. Many requests came from people running low on essentials, such as food and water, or gas for generators.
A Facebook post brought Keith to the attention of authorities this week.
He has lived on the South Fork Skykomish River at Sunset Falls for about five years. Snow at his house is up to 4 feet deep in some spots, he said.
He has kept his cell phone charged with his generator, though service has been very spotty.
“You and I are speaking, and if I turned around it would drop the call,” he said Thursday afternoon.
Keith lives with his cat, Simba, in a restored single-wide trailer that was built in the 1960s. He has one neighbor on the mile-long road leading up to his house.
“If I didn’t have Simba I’d be a hurting unit,” Keith said.
He has been posting pictures of the snow on social media, and a couple of days ago mentioned he only had a few gallons of gas left and was unable to leave.
Soon after, he received a call from the Department of Emergency Management offering help. They said Sky Valley Fire Assistant Chief Ernie Walters would be there the next morning.
“Lo and behold, at 9 o’clock I see Ernie in my driveway, and he said, ‘I got gas for you!’ ” Keith said. “I’m so pleased with how nicely these people have executed this.”
He knows what kind of winter weather to expect in his neck of the woods, but this is the worst he’s seen since moving there.
The Washington State Department of Transportation temporarily opened U.S. 2 to Money Creek, west of Skykomish, for local access Wednesday. It remained closed to through traffic and was inaccessible to Stevens Pass from the west.
More trees and power lines fell Wednesday night between Skykomish and Stevens Pass. It was too dangerous for crews to work overnight, but they began to clear the area again Thursday morning.
At Stevens Pass Ski Resort, there’s been no phone service since Sunday because of the road closure and power outages. To reach someone there, email SPGuestService@vailresorts.com. About half of the lifts there were open Thursday.
Hundreds who live around Index, Baring and Skykomish have been secluded for days. Some live in rural mountain terrain where the closest neighbor is more than a mile away.
The Snohomish and King county sheriff’s offices teamed up to check in on people Thursday. In Skykomish, water, supplies and hot food were available at the Masonic Temple.
Index is on the border of Snohomish County. Baring and Skykomish are in King County.
About 20 miles north in the Cascade Range, county Public Works and PUD crews opened up part of the Mountain Loop Highway Wednesday night, for people who live in Silverton. Before that, no one in the area had reached out for help, said Scott North, spokesperson for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.
As temperatures rose and the snow melted, county officials asked people to clear storm drains to prevent ponding on roads.
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke with the mayors from Gold Bar and Skykomish this week. The governor lauded residents in the snow-battered region for pulling together and helping each other under difficult conditions.
“This is a community that is very self-reliant,” he told reporters. “I don’t think the frontier spirit of Washington has dried up and gone away.”
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.