Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire silhouettes mountain ridge and tree layers just outside of Index on Monday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire silhouettes mountain ridge and tree layers just outside of Index on Monday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wildfire smoke closes schools in Index, Sultan

Unhealthy air prompted the first wildfire-related closure in Sultan. Power was cut to Index, where students were told to evacuate.

SULTAN — In what was likely the Sultan School District’s first ever closure due to wildfire smoke, school officials called off classes for Monday as smoke from the 7,600-acre Bolt Creek wildfire flooded the Skykomish River valley.

The district was one of two in Snohomish County that closed on Monday. The other, Index School District, closed as a direct result of the fire and evacuation orders.

“We are following the leadership of the emergency management for Snohomish County,” Index Superintendent Brad Jernberg wrote in an email to The Daily Herald on Monday. “We have cancelled school for (Monday and Tuesday). The power for the town of Index has been cut as a safety precaution at this point and we are at level three,” referring to a mandatory evacuation warning.

In Sultan, school officials notified parents of the smoke-related closure Sunday evening.

Superintendent Dan Chaplik said it is the first time he knows of that the district has closed for the consequences of a fire.

“We have for floods, weather. I think we’ve had issues with water outages and power,” Chaplik said. “But never air quality or aspects of a wildfire.”

In addition to smoky air, some school staff and families in the district were affected by evacuation orders, Chaplik said. He said he knew of some people who live on the east side of the evacuation area who saw reasonable routes to work cut off by the closure of U.S. 2. Other families have been displaced by evacuation orders.

The Sultan School District serves a large swath of land stretching as far west as Woods Creek and about as far east as the Pacific Crest Trail. About 1,900 students are enrolled in the district.

“The number of staff and families that were impacted would have made operation today difficult,” Chaplik said Monday.

Deanna Ballard, mother of two students in the district, said she appreciated the advance notice of the school closure. Ballard works from home, so she was able to stay home with her daughters, a fifth grader and ninth grader.

“I think it was a good choice for them to close, honestly,” Ballard said. “Sometimes with snow and ice you wonder, but with this, I think it was definitely necessary. I just can’t imagine the kids outside walking to school.”

Ballard lives near the western border of the Sultan School District, she said. She recounted spending a hazy, smoky day inside on Sunday.

“It was getting in the house even,” she said of the smoke. “It smelled like burnt tire almost. It was a really bad smell.”

To help clear the air, she ran her air conditioning because it filters through the air. She also vacuumed the floors and changed out bedding, she said. Monday conditions were clearer near Ballard’s home, and “it’s a lot easier to be around than it was yesterday,” she said.

Shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, the district announced on Facebook that schools would reopen on Tuesday.

“All transportation and operations will resume as normally scheduled,” the post said.

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

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