Bolt Creek Fire: Residents say holes forming, 'earth is shifting' as rain falls on burn scar

Communities that sit in the burn scar of the Bolt Creek Fire continue to worry about rainfall, snowfall and the potential for debris flows that come along with it.

Grotto resident Katie Sorlien showed us Tuesday how recent wind and rainfall is carving out the land in the burn area. 

"This has given way since the fire," said Katie, pointing to a hillside with new erosion. "Some soil has let go. Rocks have let go." 

About a month ago, Katie walked us through the same area to talk about debris flows and safety concerns near the Bolt Creek Fire burn scar. She has been monitoring the situation since the fire. 

"It’s just a matter of how fast it’s going to flow, how far it will travel and how much it will take with it," said Katie. 

Since that time, Katie says holes have opened up and soils and pockets of gray clay have eroded. She says much of the damage can be found near trees and stumps, were root systems have burned, leaving gaps in the earth and unstable ground behind.

"When the water falls down, it falls into the hole and gets into the unstable soil. Which will in turn, eventually wash it away," she said.

Katie showed us where water was carving out new routes down the Hillside behind her home Tuesday. The community of Grotto sits in an alluvial fan, a place prone to debris flows.

"That shifted quite a bit just in the last week and a half," Katie said, pointing to a mound of dirt and debris. "The ground here used to go straight across—and it basically just caved in."

The National Weather Service told us Tuesday afternoon the rain estimate for the Grotto area would be between a half-inch to an inch throughout the afternoon and into the evening hours. Later in the day, a flash flood warning was issued for the Bolt Creek Burn scar.

The Washington State Department of Transportation continues to monitor weather conditions and has said it stands ready to clear falling debris in areas of concern, like the Money Creek Tunnel.

"If the National Weather Service were to see a certain amount of rain falling in a certain time, that would give us an indication that a debris flow is more likely, just given the amount of rain that is collected," said WSDOT spokesperson R.B. McKeon.

Katie says despite the rain, the burn scar has made it hard for water to penetrate the ground in some areas. 

"This is all dry," she said, scraping away about an inch of charged debris on the ground in the burn area. Beneath the debris, she pointed out that the ground was completely dry.

"Since November 1st, we’ve had 9.5 inches of rain and this is dry," she said.

The Wildfire Associated Emergency Response Team Report, dated Oct. 2022, states: "Based on the modeling and field reconnaissance, flash flooding and debris flows during heavy precipitation and rain-on-snow events could impact the community of Grotto, transmission line infrastructure, State Route 2, and the railroad."

This has also caused alarm bells to go off for residents.

"The debris flow could go past the highway and disrupt the train tracks as well," said Katie. "So, from here to the train tracks would be through Grotto, over our houses, through the highway, and to the train tracks."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: 'It's scary, it's really scary'; Communities damaged by Bolt Creek Fire now concerned with snow, flooding

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On Tuesday, Katie said she received a text alert that read: "The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Warning until 5:45 PM today for the Bolt Creek burn scar between Baring and Skykomish. At 3:36 PM, Doppler radar indicated heavy rain over the Bolt Creek Burn Scar. Flash flooding is ongoing or expected to begin shortly. This is a life-threatening situation. Heavy rainfall will cause extensive and severe flash flooding of creeks, streams, and ditches in the Bolt Creek Burn Scar."

She says residents remain vigilant and many check their weather gauges whenever the rain falls heavily.

"It’s like walking around in a fire pit, in a soaking wet fire pit," she said.