Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Range less than 25 miles northeast of Vancouver, Yacolt was once a gathering place for local Indians to trade with coastal and intermountain tribes. The Klickitat word Yacolt means haunted valley or a place of evil spirits. The name might have come from an incident when five children were lost picking wild berries. The demon, Yacolt, took them, so the story goes.
The Yacolt Burn
Another kind of demon visited the area Sept. 11-13, 1902. The Yacolt Burn was the worst fire in Washington history. It killed at least 38 people and left at least 146 families homeless. Churches, barns and livestock also were lost.
Fanned by unusually dry winds from the east, the fire traveled about 30 miles in 36 hours and destroyed 238,920 acres in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. About 12 billion board feet of timber went up in flames.
The sky was so dark because of the blaze that some residents thought a mountain had erupted, and a steamboat on the Columbia River had to use a searchlight to navigate. Newspaper reports say that in many cases, people were saved only because they rushed to the creeks, as did wild deer, bear and coyotes fleeing the wall of fire.
Logging and the railroad
After the fire, loggers salvaged a great deal of lumber from the burn area. It became a hub for lumber shipping in Washington state via the Battle Ground, Yacolt and Chelatchie Prairie Railroad.
Vancouver businessman L.M. Hidden apparently was the person behind the railroad. In 1886, Hidden and five associates left Vancouver to survey a proposed railroad that would serve Vancouver and Yakima by way of Klickitat Pass. A year later, the Vancouver, Klickitat and Yakima Railroad was incorporated with $1 million in financing.
Although the line never made it to Yakima, it did move lumber to markets in Vancouver and Oregon, especially in the 1920s. The cargo included much of the wood salvaged after the 1902 Yacolt Burn.
The town also was growing. It had one of two post offices early area settlers had created. Six years after the fire, residents selected the name Yacolt over the name Garner, and the town was incorporated with that name.
For Lewis and Clark railway information, go to www.clark.wa.gov/public-works/transportation/railroad.html