Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire silhouettes a mountain ridge and trees just outside on Sept. 12, outside of Index. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire silhouettes a mountain ridge and trees just outside on Sept. 12, outside of Index. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Work begins to stabilize Bolt Creek burn scar for winter weather

A U.S. Forest Service report released last week identified several high-risk areas for landslides and flooding.

INDEX — Crews are working to stabilize the burn scar left by the Bolt Creek fire after a U.S. Forest Service report revealed the extent of the damage. Agencies say reducing the risk of flash flooding and landslides are their top priorities.

On Nov. 8, the Forest Service released a Burned Area Emergency Response report detailing its findings of fire damage. According to the report, the Bolt Creek fire blazed through 14,978 acres starting on Sep. 10 until fire crews achieved 51% containment on Oct. 21.

Most of the burned land borders U.S. 2 between Index and Skykomish. Of that area, about 75% is Forest Service land. Almost all of the rest is privately owned.

The report is the second released as part of the agency’s investigation into Bolt Creek’s aftermath. The first report, completed last month, was rendered irrelevant as the unusually long fire season continued to create further problems, according to a Forest Service press release.

BAER reports are intended to help the Forest Service and local agencies identify and prioritize dangers to habitat, infrastructure and safety in a fire’s aftermath, the press release said. The Bolt Creek report details possible plans to stabilize the area to help prevent serious landslides and flash flooding.

The team estimated certain parts of the burn scar to be at “high or very high risk of major consequences” if slides or flooding hit. Of greatest concern are dispersed campsites on Bolt Creek and Forest Service roads near the Beckler River, where the agency said the chance of debris flows or flooding causing risk to human life was “likely to very likely.”

A report released last month by the state Department of Natural Resources said boulders up to 4 feet in diameter were seen in an active runoff channel near the dispersed campsite, suggesting a high risk of “historic” debris flow should heavy rains hit the area. Snowpack this winter will increase the risk.

The Forest Service report recommended posting signs in at-risk areas to notify campers, as well as closing certain forest roads to the public until a full assessment can be made in the spring.

Forest Service crews began work on high-priority concerns identified by the report on Nov. 10, said spokesperson Colton Whitworth. The agency will address as many risks as possible until snow prevents further work, Whitworth said.

The state Department of Transportation is continuing work that began while the fire was still burning, said spokesperson RB McKeon. Early efforts included strategically felling trees “in a way that (the department) hopes will help mitigate the magnitude of any debris flow,” McKeon said.

Winter operations on U.S. 2 will begin on Nov. 20, McKeon said, meaning crews will be on 24/7 shifts to reduce response time in the event of a debris flow. Crews in that area are in contact with agencies on the east side of Stevens Pass that will be able to help clear the road if a slide blocks it.

McKeon said Department of Transportation geotechnicians have evaluated the slope along the highway and will continue to monitor it regularly for risks. Technicians were last on site on Nov. 2 checking on the areas identified by the report. McKeon said her agency will release its own report this week.

Riley Haun: 425-339-3192; riley.haun@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @RHaunID.

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