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Rodeo–Chediski Fire

Rodeo–Chediski fires on July 1, 2002, as seen from NASA's ER-2 aircraft

The Rodeo–Chediski Fire was a [1] It was the worst forest fire in Arizona's recorded history until June 14, 2011 when the Wallow Fire surpassed Rodeo-Chediski as the largest fire in Arizona history.[2] Several local communities, including Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside, Heber-Overgaard Claysprings and Pinedale, were threatened and had to be evacuated.

Origin and development

Initially there were two separate fires. The first fire, the Rodeo, was reported on the afternoon of June 18 near the Rodeo Fairgrounds on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation by Cibicue. An arsonist was arrested on June 29 and was later charged. By early evening, around were ablaze. Increasing wind speeds fed the fire to over by the following morning, and when wind speeds increased to around the fire grew rapidly, increasing fourfold over the next three hours.

The Chediski Fire was first reported on the morning of June 20 near Chediski Peak northwest of Payson. It had been started by a stranded quad runner, Valinda Jo Elliott, trying to signal a news helicopter. Similarly fed by the strong winds, this fire spread to by mid-afternoon, and by the following morning it covered over .

By June 21 the Rodeo Fire had consumed around . Around 8,000 people were evacuated; by the end of the fire, around 30,000 people would be moved. The two burning areas approached through crosswinds over June 21 and June 22 as a further 11,000 people were ordered to leave their homes. The burning areas joined on June 23 having consumed around of woodland. The fire's progress slowed after the two merged and by June 26 the fire was 5% contained by backburning, cutting and slurry — protecting the settlements of Clay Springs, Linden and Pinedale, but had burned. The fire was 28% contained by June 28, but it was not fully under control until July 7 at a cost of $43.1 million.[3] About 400 homes were destroyed in Pinedale and other small communities. The fire was declared a disaster area. was established at the fire's onset as a portal for concerned citizens and family members acting as an event update website.


A view of the fire from Bison Ranch in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona


Of the woodlands affected, (60.0%) was part of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Of the rest, (35.7%) was in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and (2.3%) in the Tonto National Forest. The remaining destruction occurred on private land. The fire damaged or destroyed ecosystem resources, disrupted hydrologic functioning, and altered the loadings of flammable fuels on much of the ponderosa pine forest that was exposed to the burn.[4]

After the fire, efforts were made to stabilize the landscape by burned area emergency response teams. Waterbars, wattles and K-rails were put in place and there were over two weeks of aerial seeding, dropping around of winter wheat or indigenous grass seeds over .

Political consequences

Political figures, including Senator ecological effects of these policies are hotly debated among forestry experts.

Criminal prosecutions

The arsonist, who received a 10-year prison sentence in March 2004, was Leonard Gregg, a Cibecue resident who worked as a seasonal firefighter for the tribal fire department. He told investigators he had set two fires that morning (the first was quickly put out) in hopes of getting hired by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for a quick-response fire crew. Gregg had previously worked as a BIA fire crew member, and was indeed among the first to be called in to fight the Rodeo Fire. The stranded motorist, Valinda Jo Elliott, who started the Chediski portion of the fire was not charged with arson by the US Attorney's office, much to the anger of local residents and the tribe. In 2009, a judge ruled that she is eligible to be tried in a civil suit in the White Mountain Apache tribal court.[7]

See also


External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Chediski-Rodeo Fire map
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