Rodeo-Chediski: 10 Years Later
Reporter: Guy Atchley
June 18, 2002, Arizona entered a new era -- the era of catastrophic fires. Nine On You Side takes a look at how it all began and what's been done since.
The White Mountains, Arizona high-country playground. But in years of drought a recipe for disaster. June 18th, 2002. A tribal firefighter -- hoping to get work set a fire near the Rodeo ground in Cibecue. A few years later, miles away, a woman lost in the forest set a signal fire near Chediski Mountain. The fires merged to become Rodeo-Chediski the perfect storm. It was Jim Paxon's job to keep a fearful public informed.
Jim Paxon, Former Fire Information Officer, "It was a megafire. The phrase was coined from the Rodeo-Chediski."
The plumes of smoke of rose tens of thousands of feet. And then collapsed sending fire in every direction, 50,000 acres a day. Ranger Ed Collins remembers.
Ed Collins, Ranger, "It's an incredibly helpless feeling when a fire of that scale comes onto land that you're responsible for managing."
By June 22nd: after making runs through several subdivisions, the fire appeared to be unstoppable, and officials made the decision to evacuate Show Low. 30,000 people fled.
Ed Collins, "How in the world did you guys save Show low and Pinetop? Very aggressive firefighting."
In a last-ditch effort, firefighters made their stand along Highway 60, setting backfires in hopes a lack of fuel would bring down the monster. It worked. Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside were saved. But not before huge portions of outlying developments were left in charred ruins.
Guy Atchley, "Rodeo-Chediski consumed close to 500 homes, almost half of them in this subdivision just outside of Show Low, known as Timberland and the 10 years later, in many cases, all that remains is the foundation."
Bill Scribner, Homeowner, "Have you seen a lot of people leave? Yes, I've never seen so many places up for sale."
Bill Scribner and his friends still meet every Wednesday at the Linden Fire substation to count their Blessing because their homes were saved.
Their neighbor, Beverly Howell, was not so fortunate. She and her husband saw 37 years of work on their cabin disappear in minutes.
Beverly Howell, "We felt like one of our kids had died, felt so bad over something."
And while the Rodeo-Chediski fire itself did not kill anyone, Howell is quick to remind people of its aftermath.
Beverly Howell, "Right after the fire, there were 6 or 7 deaths in here and I think it was just shock and overwork."
The Howell's new home now sits in the exact location of their old cabin. Homes can be rebuilt in a matter of weeks, not so the forest.