Skykomish businesses staying open amidst Bolt Creek Fire

With evacuations and Highway 2 closures, the Bolt Creek Fire has dealt Skykomish one blow after another these past few weeks.

As the 17-square-mile fire burns high atop the hillside to the north of town, Skykomish is under a Level 2 Get Set evacuation — meaning people should be prepared to go at a moment’s notice. So far, the fire has not destroyed any homes.

“It’s a steep hillside, and it could creep down the hill,” Skykomish Mayor Henry Sladek told KIRO Newsradio. “As it creeps down the hill, it gets closer to town — but that’s the point at which they can fight the fire, when it gets down to the road level.”

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Some residents have already packed up and left. Others, including those who own small businesses, have chosen to stay behind — but they are finding their clientele diminished.

“When the highway is closed, everybody has had really reduced hours — or even been closed,” Sladek said.

Normally, this would be the bustling tourism season for the town, with hikers flocking to the Cascades and road-trippers stopping on their way across the pass. However, with Highway 2 between Index and Skykomish closing for two weeks — and then closing again between Grotto and Skykomish on Monday, just two days after reopening — the town is much quieter.

In addition to his mayoral duties, Sladek owns the Cascadia Inn downtown. Over the weekend, when the highway briefly reopened, tourists returned — but now the hotel is empty again.

“We’ve had visitors as recently as two, three days ago,” Sladek said. “We expect we’ll have some again this weekend, assuming that the highway reopens.”

In the meantime, he is keeping the hotel’s doors open in case those living closest to the fire need to evacuate their homes.

“We’re really holding rooms available for people who really need it in case of emergency,” he said. “And then we’ve had some firefighters stay.”

The highway closure does not just mean a lack of people, but also a lack of goods for businesses. Deliveries for shops and restaurants have been sporadic, with access to the town limited to the east side, across the pass.

“We finally made arrangements to get the mail delivered — our mail wasn’t delivered for two weeks,” Sladek said.

As mayor, he has told Town Hall staff to leave if they feel that is safest, but he plans to stay behind unless evacuation orders move to Level 3.

“We are packed, but I would probably be one of the last people to leave — just by virtue of being the mayor,” he said.

While the idea of ​​being able to see fire on the hillside while standing in town may sound scary, Sladek is not too worried. He explained that rather than looking at an entire mountain in flames — as you might see in a Hollywood disaster movie — they are mostly seeing smoke, with patches of fire here and there across the hillside.

“Although it’s a bit unnerving to see fire that close, you trust that they know what they’re doing — they can keep it at bay,” Sladek said.

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