Business owners impacted by Bolt Creek fire discuss relief and future safety measures with lawmakers

The wildfire burned along Highway 2 for more than a month, shutting it down for two weeks. Some businesses reported a 75% revenue loss during this period.

Sudan, wash. — The smoke has cleared, but the effects of the Bolt Creek wildfire are still raging in the air along Highway 2 this summer.

Just when the wildfire season has subsided, winter is quickly approaching. Many residents are now worried about winter landslides and flash floods triggered by the burn scars left by the 15,000-acre fire.

On Thursday, business owners met with federal lawmakers at Bubba’s Roadhouse in Sudan to discuss ways to keep their communities safe.

After a hot, smoky summer, business at Bubba’s is finally starting to return to normal.

“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Duane “Bubba” Deach said. “There’s dust, dry climate and all the heat.”

The Bolt Creek wildfire burned along Highway 2 for more than a month, scorching trees down the road and shutting it down for two weeks.

Some businesses reported a 75% revenue loss.

“You have to remember that many of our businesses are not necessarily on Highway 2,” said Debbie Cople, director of the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce. “We have rafting businesses, people cleaning holiday homes, wedding venues. They’ve all been affected.”

With so many trees gone, landslides, flash floods and avalanches are a concern as winter approaches.

The Department of Transportation has advised people living along the corridor to have enough food and fuel to last for two weeks in the event of a shutdown.

“It would be great if we had this level of confidence that when we had something adverse, we could meet a need or at least try to meet a need, but right now it feels like we don’t have the resources,” Deach said.

Two winters ago, people along Highway 2 were trapped for two weeks, not by smoke, but by snow.

Neighbors fear a repeat after early warnings that flooding and landslides could close Highway 2 sometime this season.

Water, food, fuel and electricity were cut off in several communities, forcing people to form rescue convoys to help their neighbors survive.

“We have to take steps to prevent this from happening again,” Copley said, “even if it’s some temporary roadblocks. We have to keep this highway clear.”

At a roundtable on Thursday, local businesses said they wanted the governor to declare the area an “emergency area” in order to release financial aid for those affected by the fires.

Federal FEMA relief is clearly harder to come by, according to Copple.

“I’ve been told that fires don’t always qualify for disaster relief,” Cople said. “Honestly, I can’t understand why hurricanes are more important than recovery from fires.”

When Rep. Kim Schrier (D-08) was asked about FEMA relief, she said different parameters were considered.

“Some of it has to do with population, and some of it has to do with size. I guess the fact of the matter is that with hurricanes you see all the damage right away,” Schreier said. “In this case, you’re going to see a ripple of damage. We just need to file a lawsuit and get as much relief as possible, right here.”

Federal lawmakers have asked the U.S. Forest Service to prioritize funding for the Highway 2 corridor to plant new trees, but that will take time, and time is running out as winter approaches.

“We just never know,” Dickie said. “Literally, you can’t predict anything here.”

A fundraiser to help local businesses is scheduled for November. 10 In the Arena of Angels of the Wind. To get tickets, click here.

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