Rodeo–Chediski Fire

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Rodeo–Chediski Fire

Rodeo-Chediski Fire.jpg

Rodeo–Chediski fires on June 28, 2002, as seen from the Landsat 7 satellite
Location Coconino and Navajo counties, Arizona
Date(s) June 18, 2002 (2002-06-18)-July 7, 2002 (2002-07-07)
Burned area 468,638 acres (732.247 sq mi; 189,651 ha) [1]
Cause arson, accidental
Land use forest, rural
426 [2]
Perpetrator(s) Leonard Gregg, Valinda Jo Elliott
Rodeo-Chediski fires on July 1, 2002, as seen from NASA's ER-2 aircraft Rodeo chediski fire.jpg
Rodeo–Chediski fires on July 1, 2002, as seen from NASA's ER-2 aircraft

The Rodeo–Chediski Fire was a wildfire that burned in east-central Arizona beginning on June 18, 2002, and was not controlled until July 7. [2] 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. [3] Several local communities, including Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside, Heber-Overgaard Claysprings and Pinedale, were threatened and had to be evacuated.

Wildfire uncontrolled fire in an area of combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area

A wildfire or wildland fire is a fire in an area of combustible vegetation occurring in rural areas. Depending on the type of vegetation present, a wildfire can also be classified more specifically as a brush fire, bushfire, desert fire, forest fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, and veld fire.

Arizona state of the United States of America

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona, one of the Four Corners states, is bordered by New Mexico to the east, Utah to the north, Nevada and California to the west, and Mexico to the south, as well as the southwestern corner of Colorado. Arizona's border with Mexico is 389 miles (626 km) long, on the northern border of the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Recorded history historical narrative based on a written record or other documented communication

Recorded history or written history is a historical narrative based on a written record or other documented communication. It contrasts with other narratives of the past, such as mythological, oral or archeological traditions. For broader world history, recorded history begins with the accounts of the ancient world around the 4th millennium BC, and coincides with the invention of writing. For some geographic regions or cultures, written history is limited to a relatively recent period in human history because of the limited use of written records. Moreover, human cultures do not always record all of the information relevant to later historians, such as the full impact of natural disasters or the names of individuals; thus, recorded history for particular types of information is limited based on the types of records kept. Because of this, recorded history in different contexts may refer to different periods of time depending on the topic.


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 1,200 acres (1.9 sq mi; 490 ha) were ablaze. Increasing wind speeds fed the fire to over 2,000 acres (3.1 sq mi; 810 ha) by the following morning, and when wind speeds increased to around 25 miles per hour (40 km/h) the fire grew rapidly, increasing fourfold over the next three hours.

Fort Apache Indian Reservation

The Fort Apache Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation in Arizona, United States, encompassing parts of Navajo, Gila, and Apache counties. It is home to the federally recognized White Mountain Apache Tribe of the Fort Apache Reservation, a Western Apache tribe. It has a land area of 2,627 square miles (6,800 km2) and a population of 12,429 people as of the 2000 census. The largest community is in Whiteriver.

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 2,000 acres (3.1 sq mi; 810 ha) by mid-afternoon, and by the following morning it covered over 14,000 acres (22 sq mi; 5,700 ha).

Helicopter Type of rotor craft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors

A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forward, backward, and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixed-wing aircraft and many forms of VTOL aircraft cannot perform.

By June 21 the Rodeo Fire had consumed around 150,000 acres (230 sq mi; 61,000 ha). 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 300,000 acres (470 sq mi; 120,000 ha) 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 460,000 acres (720 sq mi; 190,000 ha) 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. [1] 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.

Controlled burn technique to reduce potential fuel for wildfire through managed burning

A controlled or prescribed burn, also known as hazard reduction burning, backfire, swailing, or a burn-off, is a wildfire set intentionally for purposes of forest management, farming, prairie restoration or greenhouse gas abatement. A controlled burn may also refer to the intentional burning of slash and fuels through burn piles. Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Hazard reduction or controlled burning is conducted during the cooler months to reduce fuel buildup and decrease the likelihood of serious hotter fires. Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, and reveals soil mineral layers which increases seedling vitality, thus renewing the forest. Some cones, such as those of Lodgepole Pine and Sequoia, are serotinous, as well as many chaparral shrubs, meaning they require heat from fire to open cones to disperse seeds.

Clay Springs, Arizona Census-designated place in Arizona, United States

Clay Springs is a census-designated place (CDP) in Navajo County, Arizona, United States. Clay Springs is 16 miles (26 km) northwest of Show Low. Clay Springs has a post office with ZIP code 85923.

Linden, Arizona Place in Arizona, United States

Linden is an unincorporated community located in Navajo County, Arizona, United States, just west of the city of Show Low. It is situated atop the Mogollon Rim at an elevation of over 6,000 feet. The community was evacuated in June 2002 due to the Rodeo-Chediski fire, which eventually consumed part of Linden, destroying a number of homes.


A view of the fire from Bison Ranch in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona Rodeo-Chediski Fire.jpg
A view of the fire from Bison Ranch in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona


Of the woodlands affected, 280,992 acres (439.050 sq mi; 113,713 ha) (60.0%) was part of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Of the rest, 167,215 acres (261.273 sq mi; 67,670 ha) (35.7%) was in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and 10,667 acres (16.667 sq mi; 4,317 ha) (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]

Woodland low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade

A woodland or wood is a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade. Woodlands may support an understory of shrubs and herbaceous plants including grasses. Woodland may form a transition to shrubland under drier conditions or during early stages of primary or secondary succession. Higher density areas of trees with a largely closed canopy that provides extensive and nearly continuous shade are referred to as forests.

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests Apache-Sitgraves National Forest

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are two 2.76-million-acre (11,169 km2) United States National Forests which run along the Mogollon Rim and the White Mountains in east-central Arizona and into the U.S. state of New Mexico. Both forests are managed as one unit by USDA Forest Service from the forests Supervisors Office in Springerville, Arizona. Apache-Sitgreaves has over 400 species of wildlife. With its high elevation and cool summer breezes it is a popular weekend destination from the hot desert for Phoenix, Arizona residents. The forest is divided into 5 Ranger Districts that span almost 300 miles (480 km) from Clifton, Arizona in the east-central portion of Arizona to the eastern boundary of the Coconino National Forest in north-central Arizona. The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest borders the western and northern borders of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It is located in parts of Greenlee, Apache, Navajo, and Coconino counties in eastern and east-central Arizona, and Catron County in western New Mexico. The more northwesterly Sitgreaves National Forest portion lies adjacent to the north side of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and is located entirely in Arizona, within Navajo, Apache, and Coconino counties. It has a total area of 818,651 acres (3,313 km2). The more southeasterly and much larger Apache National Forest portion lies adjacent to the east side of the Fort Apache and the San Carlos Indian Reservations. It lies on both sides of the border with New Mexico, in Greenlee, Catron, and Apache counties. It has a total area of 1,813,601 acres (7,339 km2).

Tonto National Forest

The Tonto National Forest, encompassing 2,873,200 acres, is the largest of the six national forests in Arizona and is the fifth largest national forest in the United States. The Tonto National Forest has diverse scenery, with elevations ranging from 1,400 feet in the Sonoran Desert to 7,400 feet in the ponderosa pine forests of the Mogollon Rim. The Tonto National Forest is also the most visited "urban" forest in the United States. The boundaries of the Tonto National Forest are the Phoenix metropolitan area to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian Reservation to the east. The Tonto is managed by the USDA Forest Service and its headquarters are in Phoenix. There are local ranger district offices in Globe, Mesa, Payson, Roosevelt, Scottsdale, and Young.

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 50,000,000 pounds (23,000 t) of winter wheat or indigenous grass seeds over 180,000 acres (280 sq mi; 73,000 ha).

Burned area emergency response

Burned area emergency response (BAER) is an emergency risk management reaction to post wildfire conditions that pose risks to human life and property or could further destabilize or degrade the burned lands. Even though wildfires are natural events, the presence of people and man-made structures in and adjacent to the burned area frequently requires continued emergency risk management actions. High severity wildfires pose a continuing flood, debris flow and mudflow risk to people living within and downstream from a burned watershed as well as a potential loss of desirable watershed values.


A water bar or interceptor dyke is a road construction feature that is used to prevent erosion on sloping roads, cleared paths through woodland, or other accessways by reducing flow length. It is a diagonal channel across the road that diverts surface water off the road and into a stable drain way. By constructing a series of water bars at intervals along a road, the volume of water flowing down the road is reduced. Without water bars, flooding, washouts, and accelerated road degradation can occur.

Political consequences

Political figures, including Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, blamed the fire on "radical environmentalists" and their opposition to logging to thin the forests. [5] The group, Sierra Club, responded by saying they have long supported the thinning of underbrush and small trees through controlled burns, not the logging of large trees. [6] But this fire, among other devastating drought-year fires in the American West, helped propel new forest management laws, enacted by both the U.S. Congress and local authorities. Of these the most notable is the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003. Although these policies presented high-profile, short-term solutions, the 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] In 2014 the court ruled that she was liable for $1650 in civil penalties and $57,000,000 in restitution to the tribe. [8]

See also

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