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Incident Name:  Yacolt Fire
Date: 9/11/1902 it blew up into a fast-moving and devastating crown fire, but it and other fires had been burning and smouldering for more than a month
Personnel: official death toll: 38 lives lost (according to Holbrook, 1945)
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Summary: During the dry summer of 1902 fires burned throughout Washington and Oregon. The largest and most devastating in Washington state history burned through the Mt Ranier Forest Reserve and beyond, fanned by the "devil wind" from eastern Washington, killing more than 38 people and destroying 238,920 acres. In 1905 with the creation of the Forest Service, this forest reserve area became the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Rick McClure, in his 2005 article in Fire Management Today (link below) discusses how the 1902 fires were a call-to-action for fire prevention and protection by Washington state and the federal government. In 1903, the Washington State Legislature established a state fire warden. In 1908, landowners created the Washington Fire Protection Association and funded a system of fire wardens and a program of fire prevention on private lands. The Forest Service was created in 1905. The Big Burn occurred in 1910 and the Forest Service began to create a system of wildland fire suppression on public lands.

From settlers of Yacolt

Yacolt, WA 10 years later, 1912 Yacolt, WA 10 years later, 1912

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Maps

  • From Rick McClure's article in FMT: burned in the Mt Ranier Forest Reserve extended south from Mt Ranier along the Cascade Range to the Columbia River; Began near Carson and Stevenson WA, got into the timber and raged as a crown fire westward for 30 miles to the town of Yacolt, then moved north merging with another fire on the Lewis River.
  • In 3 days, both fires together covered 370 square miles (in Clark, Skamania and Cowlitz Counties).
  • Yacolt Burn Map from Wikipedia
Yacolt Burn, 1902 Yacolt Burn, 1902

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Fire Management Today (FMT): Article by Rick McClure, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 24-27
  • Washington's Aweful Conflagration: The Yacolt Fire of 1902 (1,396 K pdf)
  • Fire Management Today: Archive Index to find the whole volume.
  • Flyer on the 100th Anniversary (2002) from the Kalama Bulletin as quoted in The Dark Days of 1902; from the Weekly Columbian 10/17/1992; from the Oregonian as quoted in The Dark Days of 1902; map from the US Forest Service; unknown who put the flyer together.
Yacolt Burn, 1902--2002 Yacolt Burn, 1902--2002

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Contributors to this article:  Rick McClure

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