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Yacolt Burn

'It will happen again'

By Sally Ousley - The Daily News - Longview, WA

Photo by United States Forest Service. This 1937 photo from the summit of Lookout Mountain in Skamania County shows some of the 239,000 acres in the Yacolt area Southwest Washington that were repeatedly scorched by forest fires during the first three decades of the last century, starting in 1902.

A century ago, a wall of fire raged through three Southwest Washington counties, destroying nearly 250,000 acres, and fire officials say conditions are ripe for a devastating fire to happen again.

Click to enlargeThe Yacolt Burn, more than twice the size of the entire Mount St. Helens National Monument, happened in September 1902 and is the largest fire in Washington's history. At least 38 people died and 30 families were left homeless. Forest and farmland burned in Cowlitz, Clark and Skamania counties. About 12 billion board feet of timber was destroyed at a 1902 value of $30 million.

Could it happen again?

"Yes, it will happen again, it's just a matter of when," said LeRoy Burns, who talked about the fire late last week in Woodland as part of a series of workshops sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Click to enlargeBurns is a retired Vancouver teacher who has studied the Yacolt Burn and teaches classes about the natural history of forests.

Burns said the best theory about how the 1902 burn began is that it was a combination of a number of little fires that were incubating at that time. By Sept. 12, 1902, the wildfire burned the area between the Columbia River and Mount St. Helens, traveling 30 miles in 36 hours. Burns said it was extremely dry, with the humidity hovering near zero. This, coupled by the dry east wind racing through the Columbia River Gorge at 50 mph, set the stage for the devastating fire. He said the area had only one-tenth of an inch of rain in 75 days. He also said the temperature was high for this time of year, topping off at 97 degrees in Portland on Sept. 11, 1902.


For Immediate Release
August 30, 2002
Contact: Wade Alonzo Wash. DNR (360) 907-3524
Steve Greenwood, CGIC, Educ. Dir. (509) 427-4609
Roger Peterson, Gifford Pinchot NF (360) 891-5007

Yacolt Burn Workshops Focus on History and Fire Prevention

Stevenson, WA - Beginning in September, several adult education seminars will be offered throughout Southwest Washington. These seminars will present a historical overview of the Yacolt Burn and site-specific information to educate homeowners on the potential for fire at different times of the year, in different weather conditions, and at different vegetation levels. Homeowners will also learn what they can do to minimize the risk of fire destroying their property.

These seminars will be held at:

  • Fire District 3 fire station, Hockinson, Wash., on Thursday, September 5 from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Woodland Intermediate School, Woodland, Wash., on Thursday, September 19 from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Lacamas Heights Elementary, Camas, Wash., on Tuesday, September 24 from 7 - 9 p.m.
  • Yacolt Elementary School, Yacolt, Wash., on Thursday September 26th from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.
  • Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, Stevenson, Wash., on Sunday, September 29 from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m.

Staff from local fire districts will provide home safety tips and Leroy Burns, a local historian, will provide information on the Yacolt Burn.

These workshops are sponsored by the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, through a grant from the National Fire Plan administered by U. S. Fish and Wildlife and in cooperation with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, USDA Forest Service and other local agencies. They are part of a year-long series of events and programs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yacolt Burn.

Over the next year, a number of events are planned to provide information and education. By revisiting the Yacolt Burn event during its centennial anniversary, the question is asked: Could it happen again, in southwest Washington? A series of programs will strive to educate and increase awareness as to the potential for a large fire in western Washington. The project will provide information to help people reduce wildfire risks by implementing fire prevention education in the communities of Southwest Washington.

The project corresponds with elements of the Two-year Strategic Plan of the Southwest Washington Fire Prevention Council and the Southwest Region Department of Natural Resources Fire Prevention Plan.

For more news from the Gifford Pinchot visit our Press Room.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest
30 August 2002

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