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The Great 1936 Fire at Yachats Threatened Two Towns, Oregon Coast History

Published 03/01/22 at 12:22 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Great 1936 Fire at Yachats Threatened Two Towns, Oregon Coast History

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(Yachats, Oregon) - Late September of 1936, and the Oregon coast was still smoldering. The great fires of Bandon and other parts of the south coast were now largely under control, as was the big conflagration at Depoe Bay. See The Decade the Oregon Coast Burned - 1930s  (Above: Yachats in 1937)

However, tiny Yachats – which was quickly growing in popularity as a resort destination – was about to get hit with its own major blaze.

What apparently started north of Yachats at a small area called Camp 1 around Sunday, September 26 of 1936 rather suddenly grew into an enormous blaze that choked the little town of Yachats. In a scene that's truly out of something apocalyptic, cinders and ash were raining down on the little Oregon coast town for at least a couple of days, unfortunately something Oregonians are getting increasingly used to these days.

Back then, almost 100 years ago, however, it was a rarity.

According to the Eugene Guard at the time (the precursor to Eugene's current daily), rangers thought the fire could've originated in two places, actually. One (and the somewhat more favored theory) was Camp 1, but also farther north at Big Creek, a bit closer to Waldport. Whatever happened, it created a “wall of flame” in places, including around Cape Perpetua, with much of it crawling southward to the east of the highway.

This was actually the second scare in two days, with another fire starting up on the 24th but luckily getting squelched.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 acres were burning at Alsea, up the river in Benton County.

Within a day or two, some 25 homes between Waldport and Yachats were burned to the ground. One extremely poignant moment is noted by the paper as a small child is documented picking her toy wagon out of the burned debris of her former home.

Around Camp One, three auto parks (sort of the equivalent to cabins at the time) burned down, along with a small store.

By some estimates, as many as 600 men were involved in putting out the fire, although more serious calculations by most officials seemed to put the number closer to 250 or so, while 100 men from Eugene were standing by at one point before being sent to Alsea. They were all volunteers and no recruitment had been done in the Emerald City, the paper reports. In fact, more than 200 showed up to volunteer but there was only equipment enough for 100.

High winds from the east and dry conditions were some of the big culprits, just like Coos County and Depoe Bay.

As the fire grew on Sunday, Monday suddenly saw a “calm period,” at least in terms of wind. In that short window, rangers, loggers and other firefighters took to dynamiting sections of and and creating burned out areas, creating barriers. They feared the flames might again jump Highway 101. Fire lines were extended, with some up at Big Creek and others as far south as Vingie Road (near the San Marine area now). That day, it had been beaten back to a point about three miles from the highway.

Meanwhile, Waldport residents were starting to feel threatened. Yachats folks already felt the pain, and with great anxiousness had to pack their things, sometimes asked to leave their homes and the next hour or so let back in, an alternating process that went on for a good couple of days.

Everyone feared the worst, but especially its burgeoning tourism industry.

As the Eugene Guard put it: “Recent years have brought an almost continuous development of the eight miles between Yachats and Waldport, and the region because of its scenic beauty has been a favorite resort and summer home country. The brushy land on the outskirts creates a fire hazard not unlike that which caused the disaster at Bandon.”

A heavy fog came in from the west over the next day after the initial fire, but it failed to stop the blaze. Residents and firefighters were worried just the “slightest breath” of wind would cause it to spread.

A rather dramatic photo from the paper shows an area near Cape Perpetua completely aflame.

On the Tuesday after the start of the blaze, many more reinforcements came – what some estimated at 600. Later that day it was declared under control.

In the aftermath, officials found four goats had burned. Three bears were killed in the wild and burned by the fire as well.

Waldport residents breathed a major sigh of relief by Wednesday. Rangers in the area reported that section of central Oregon coast safe because of the fire lines at Camp One.

It wasn't the last Yachats residents heard of the fire, however. On October 11, officials declared it mostly harmless by that time and generally well under control, but by October 17 it had flared up again and began threatening homes once more. Luckily, within a day or so that too was under control.

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