Forest Lakes Owners Association

Rodeo - Chediski Fire
June 18-20, 2002

Some of the articles are from "Biography of a Monster" 
The Arizona Republic, June 30, 2002

The other articles are our own updates provided online during the fire

June 18

A fire just northeast of Cibique on the Fort Apache Reservation is spotted in the afternoon. It burns between 100 and 300 acres by nightfall.

June 19

Winds kick up. The "Rodeo" fire - so named because it started near the Rodeo Fairgrounds - leaps in size, burning from treetop to treetop among the Ponderosa pines.  Flames reach 300 feet high and temperatures at the head of the fire are 2,000 degrees. The 6-mile-wide fire is moving at 1-mph. Danger forces fire crews to pull of the frontlines by mid-morning.

About 5,000 people in Clay Springs, Pinedale and Linden begin evacuating. Arizona 260 closes between Heber and Show Low. The fire burns 10,000 acres by 5 p.m.

June 20

Valinda Jo Elliot was beginning to panic. The lush pine forests that first seemed so refreshing, now felt forbidding. The 31-year-old hiker had been lost for three days. She was tired, dehydrated and desperate when she heard the rotors of a helicopter. Setting a small signal fire seemed the only way out of what, for her, was a nightmare. Her decision, though, kindled terror for thousands. 

Smoke Plume from the Chediski fire seen looking down Rim Loop, Thursday, June 20

Jeannie Van Lew
Forest Lakes resident

Unwittingly, Elliott was responsible for the last of an almost-unimaginable series of events and circumstances that converged to create The Perfect Fire. The signal fire Elliott lit took seconds to begin racing up the side of 6,589-foot Chediski Peak. A helicopter news crew from Channel 5 (KPHO) in Phoenix spotted the blaze and swooped down on flat land three-quarters of a mile away. 

With Elliott slip-siding down the mountain away from the spreading flames, KPHO's Scott Clifton radioed satellite coordinates of the new "Chediski" fire to authorities. Before firefighters could arrive, the blaze raced over a ridge toward Lost Tank Canyon and out of control. Its northern and eastern flanks were less than 15 miles from the Rodeo fire, which continued to grow and in just a few hours would be described as a "monster."

Mitch Jacob, news director of KPHO, said the Chediski fire - Chediski is the Apache word for White Rock - started some time shortly after 7 a.m. The once-tiny signal fire was the fifth ingredient, converging with geography, weather, public policy and shear chance to create a fire like no other. "It's like drawing a royal flush," said Stephen J. Pyne, an environmental historian at Arizona State University. "Everything was in the cards, but it just doesn't happen. It all came together at maximum extenuating circumstances," he said. 

Pyne said the worst time for fires in Arizona, historically, is around the summer solstice. Thursday was the day before the solstice. The steep canyons of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests created what amounted to a chain of plumes and chimneys for fires that fed, in some cases, on a century's worth of untended, tinder-dry undergrowth. And, finally, prevailing winds that day were from the southwest, pushing the fires northeast, into south-facing terrain that naturally attracts the highest temperatures and lowest humidity. 


"You have everything that could possibly go wrong in the extreme," Pyne said. "Then you have the second fire set in a place where you can't control the perimeter of the first one. You can't put crews between them." Just before noon, southwesterly gusts 25 mph and higher fanned both fires. By midafternoon, the new Chediski fire had charred 1,500 acres. 

Around 5 p.m., the Rodeo fire leaped the Mogollon Rim and officials ordered more evacuations. The sky turned an eerie green and the air became frighteningly still as residents of Heber, Overgaard and Aripine joined those from Linden, Clay Springs and Pinedale in fleeing. At least 50 homes, barns, outbuildings and garages in Pinedale were destroyed and an estimated 5,200 people from six east-central Arizona towns were sleeping in shelters or with friends or family, wondering if they would ever see their homes again. 

"This fire is playing all the cards it has right now," said Roy Hall, fire operations chief. "We're going to pull back. It's a bleacher day today." 

The twin plumes of the "Chediski: (left) and "Rodeo" fires reached more that 30,000 feet in elevation.

Ron Schumacher
The Arizona Republic


Taken the day before evacuation ordered from our cabin 

Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident

Taken the day before evacuation ordered  just outside of Forest Lakes on Hwy 260

Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident

June 21-22, 2002

The sun tries to burn through smoke filled Forest Lakes Friday morning, June 21.  Looking down Rim Road from Rim Loop.

Jeannie Van Lew
Forest Lakes resident

June 21

We listen all night for word to come across the scanner to evacuate Forest Lakes.  The word never comes.  We wake in the morning to the smell of smoke.  Upon arising, we can see a blanket of smoke laying across Forest Lakes like a thick fog.  The sun tries to burn through, but the smoke is thick.  Deer and elk are seen all through the neighborhood.  I'm sure they must know what's going on, and yet, they don't appear worried or anxious.  Will we get the word today to evacuate?

Winds continue to fan the two blazes.

The "Rodeo" fire covers 150,000 acres by midday, and the "Chediski" fire consumes 16,000 acres. By evening, the two are about 8 miles apart and still at 0 percent contained.

More than 8,000 people from 6 towns have been evacuated.

As many as 100 homeowners in Clay Springs, Pinedale and Linden defy fire officials' demands and sneak back to their houses. Some take four-wheel-drive vehicles to go around barriers, and saw down trees and bulldoze trenches to protect their homes.

June 22

An undetermined number of structures in Overgaard and Heber burn.

The fires combine to char more than 235,000 acres - nearly the size of Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Scottsdale combined. There are conflicting reports about whether the "Rodeo" and the "Chediski" fires have merged.

Fire crews race to bulldoze two horizontal swaths south of Heber to contain the fires. They also try to build a containment line in Hop Canyon and perhaps set a prescribed burn to rob the "Rodeo" fire of fuel.

The efforts fail as the fires blow past the lines. Flames could be seen from the Juniper Ridge area of Show Low for the first time.

By evening, the "Rodeo" fire reaches Hop Canyon, triggering the ordered evacuation of Show Low's population of 7,700. Another 3,500 residents in Pinetop-Lakeside also get the orders to leave town.

No containment in sight.

What I saw looking in my rear view mirror, the day we were evacuated from Forest Lakes.

Don Gelowitz
Forest Lakes resident

Saturday, June 22, 2002

  • Residents were evacuated at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, June 22 as a precautionary measure.

  • Hot Shot crews, sheriff and other officials use Forest Lakes as a staging area. 

June 23, 2002

The fires char about 300,000 acres by noon.

Preliminary figures indicate about 115 are destroyed by the two blazes; fire officials credit crews' around-the-clock efforts in saving 1,000 other structures from burning.

Gov. Hull says declaration of the area as a federal disaster zone is imminent, which would free up federal aid to help the affected communities.

She notes that the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest is home to the largest pine groves in the country, then added, "I have no idea what's left of it."

Sunday, June 23, 2002

  • June 23 the fire is estimated to be 3-4 miles southeast of Forest Lakes.  
  • Unfortunately, the wind is blowing toward Heber.  
  • Highway 260 is completely closed.  People can leave but will not be allowed back in.  
  • By evening we hear that a Type I Hot Shot Team has been called in to help fight the fire closest to Forest Lakes.  They feel they have the fire under control.  
  • As a result our firefighters have been relieved and are in reserve.


Map of the area
click to enlarge

June 24, 2002

An Erickson Air Crane makes its way out to another mission late Monday afternoon. The aircraft carries 2000 gallons of water.

Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

Monday, June 24, 2002, 7:30 pm:

  • The Fire Chief reports that the fire is still 3-5 miles from Forest Lakes

  • There is a fire line being cut from Camp Shadow Pines to the 99 road, east of the sub division. They will start back fires to remove fuel for the fire.

  • FLOA wishes to thank all those who have offered room in their homes for the evacuees. The Salvation Army will be contacting Frank as the need arises.

  • Perry Heilman, who owns the Forest Lakes Lodge, has opened up the lodge to fire fighters.

Monday, June 24, 2002, 3:30 pm

  • The fire has not reached Forest Lakes.

  • The Forest Lakes Fire Department is responsible for the subdivision, patrolling and putting out spot fires

  • The Sheriff's Department and other personnel are also patrolling the area, looking for spot fires

  • The fire is not progressing rapidly towards the development.  It is creeping, but it is still 3-4 miles away

  • Anyone who has evacuated the subdivision, including summer residents, should register with the Red Cross at the Rim Country Middle School in Payson

  • Anyone who leaves should put a white towel, t-shirt or cloth on a door which tells fire fighters that the residence is vacant

  • No one is allowed to re-enter the subdivision at this time

  • We don't currently know when residents will be allowed back into the subdivision

  • Currently the electricity is still on to the subdivision

  • There is a 4 lane fire break being built from the Work Center, east of Forest Lakes, to the origination point of the fire to try to contain the fire on it's west side

  • A few valley residents have volunteered to open their homes.

June 25, 2002

Backfires set by firefighters ahead of the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire are designed to stop its advance by robbing it of the dry tinder that has fueled it.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

Tuesday, June 25, 2002, 7:30 pm:

  • The fire continues to move towards Forest Lakes

  • It is currently 4 miles south of the development -  2 miles south of the O.W. Ranch, which is south of the Fish Hatchery

  • The main threat is the fire advancing up Canyon Creek

  • The fire fighters continue to clear the brush south of the development so that they can set the back fires

Tuesday, June 25, 2002, 10:30 am:

  • The fire is moving towards Forest Lakes

  • The Hot Shots and fire fighters are still working on the fire break and setting the back fires south of Forest Lakes

  • Elizabeth "Liz" Archuleta - Coconino County District 2 Supervisor and Chairman of the Board visited Forest Lakes on Sunday, June 24 along with Matt Ryan - District Three Supervisor, to assess the fire danger.  They have offered a phone number to folks who need assistance due to the fire.  The number is 928-779-6764

  • Lynda Locke, assistant to Supervisor Matt Ryan, has offered to help house folks who have been evacuated.  She can be reached at 928-779-6764


The "Rodeo-Chediski" fire draws to within a quarter-mile of Show Low as President Bush arrives to buck up firefighters and evacuees.

Bush stops to sign autographs, posed for pictures and even signed a firefighter's yellow jersey. "Thank you," Bush told firefighters as he shook hand after hand. 

For the first time since the fire began, firefighters have smiles from ear to ear. 

Bush tells 66-year-old Garth Greer, a Show Low resident, "Hang in there, we are going to whip this thing."

The fire muscles up to 375,000 acres, the size of Los Angeles, growing in several directions and making a run north toward Taylor.

But fire officials worry most about its eastern edge, dangerously close to Show Low, and its southeastern portion, where it threatens to jump U.S. 60 and open another front. In such a scenario, flames could run north toward Show Low and the Pinetop-Lakeside area.

Firefighter Steve Brown of Phoenix sets backfires on the western edge of the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire late Tuesday afternoon.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

An air tanker drops slurry into the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire near Heber Tuesday afternoon.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The wildfire burns near Heber Tuesday afternoon. The blaze has blackened 586 square miles, an area the size of Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

June 26, 2002

The fire advances near Forest Lakes Wednesday morning. "I've never been on a fire, large or small, where it took nine days for containment" to start, fire spokesman Jim Paxon said.

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 26, 2002, 10:30 am:

  • The threat of the fire reaching Forest Lakes has dropped from a 50% chance to 25%

  • The fire is currently 3 miles away

  • The line being cut near from Camp Shadow Pines to FS99 is complete and slurry is being dropped on the north side of the highway

  • The fire did cross Hwy 260 but the line has held

  • In Heber and Overgaard, firefighters successfully held the line there throughout the day, yesterday June 25

  • Crews are cutting a line from FS109 on the Young road and north and setting back fires there

  • The source of the Chediski fire is known and that information has been sent to the attorney for the Department of Interior

  • The firefighters and volunteers do not need any supplies or help.  The Red Cross is doing an excellent job with supplies

  • NO ONE is allowed to return to Forest Lakes for any reason, when it is clear, we we notify you here

  • Map of fire as of 8:15 am, June 26, 2002

Wednesday, June 26, 2002, 7:30 pm:

  • The south/southwest portion of the fire, south of Forest Lakes is ready for the backfires.  The decision was made to wait until tomorrow before lighting them

  • The fire is still way below Forest Lakes.  It is 2.5-3 miles south of the development, and south of the fish hatchery.

  • The progression of the fire from that side has slowed due to the prescribed burns done down there years ago.

  • They have finished the fire line on the west side of the fire, east of Forest Lakes. Area Map The fire line starts near Heber to the area of the old burn and continues south along FS300, which is 5 miles east of Forest Lakes.

  • The fire has progressed south toward Cibeque, the origination point of the Rodeo fire.

  • They have plenty of help. FLOA board members are asking residents to resist calling.  No one is allowed to return at this time and it is not now known when we will be able to return

A hotshot crew member sets backfires along Arizona 260 west of Heber on Wednesday afternoon.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

An air tanker drops a load of flame retardant on the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire in the Forest Lakes area along Arizona 260 Wednesday () morning.

Associated Press

For the first time, there is containment: 5 percent.

"We're on the scoreboard. We haven't been there for eight days," fire spokesman Jim Paxon says.

The containment is in the area of Clay Springs, Linden and Pinedale, communities already savaged by the fire.

Fire officials take local officials and media representatives on a tour of the Heber-Overgaard area, providing the first glimpse of the fire's devastation.

In Overgaard, the First Baptist Church survived the flames, but property east of it was torched for half a mile.
Pinecrest Lakes, the hardest-hit area, lost 166 of 200 double-wide mobile homes. Dozens of log cabins lay in charred heaps.

"It's heartbreaking," Payson Mayor Ken Murphy says.

Meanwhile, authorities announce that a special federal task force has been set up in Whiteriver to find those responsible for triggering the "Rodeo" fire. The White Mountain Apache Tribe announces a $6,000 reward for information leading to prosecution of a suspect, this on top of a $30,000 reward offered by the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

So far, no arrest.

The fire grows to 409,000 acres

The fire, shown here in the Forest Lakes area, topped 400,000 acres on Wednesday. The cost of firefighting efforts alone stands at $7.8 million.

Associated Press

The wildfire burns near Carrizo on Wednesday morning. The Fort Apache Indian Community offered a $6,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest in the "Rodeo" fire.

Associated Press


June 27, 2002

Thursday, 10:30 am:
  • Morning report from the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations web page - Air resources have been highly successful in assisting crews holding the fire west of Highway 60. Burnout operations conducted over the past 24-hours to protect major power line in the southwest corner has been very successful. Plans for today include continued structure protection throughout the fire area, burnout along the Highway 260 west of Heber, inserting dozer line and burnout in the southwest portion, and mop and patrol in various locations.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire in Indian Creek near Cibicue Thursday afternoon.

Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

  • As they are getting things under some sense of control in the Show Low area, the Forest Lakes region has become priority one.
  • Porta-tanks have been set up on the Young Road and FS300.  The tanks hold 1500 gallons of water and are used by the helicopters to fill their buckets for fighting the fire.  Water Tankers, like the one our Fire Department has, hold up to 1800 gallons of water and are used to re-fill the porta-tanks.   Area Map
  • The Red Cross camp, set up to service the fighter fighters has been moved to the Salvation Army Camp, located north on FS405 (located near the Circle K on the west side of Heber). 
  • The Forest Service Visitor Center near Woods Canyon Lake is now another staging area
  • They continue to work on the 6-blade wide containment line south of Forest Lakes.  The line from Forest Lakes continues to FS300, then south down FS300 to FS196 and over the rim to the OW Ranch.  It will eventually hook up with the line coming up from Cibeque.
  • The 4-blade wide containment line they placed out Hwy 260 to the east of us, is holding.
  • Last night and this morning they started back burning.
  • Yesterday's thunderstorms created quite a number of lightning strikes.  Only two were of any concern, and they were taken care of.
  • Matt Ryan called Frank Astemborski again today, concerned about the safety of Forest Lakes and again offered help.
Thursday, 7:30 pm:
  • The fire hit the trigger point south of OW Ranch when it jumped the lines there.  Firefighters were forced to retreat.  (A trigger point is that point at which the fire fighters are in danger and need to retreat)
  • The fire is currently 2 miles from Forest Lakes on the south side
  • The probability of the fire hitting Forest Lakes is back up to 50%.  However, the fire is laying down for the night
  • The threat now is that the fire is coming up the canyons, specifically Mule Creek Canyon
  • The fire fighters are cutting a new line from FS300 across to Canyon Point Campground, running about 100 yards south of the sub division. They hope to complete the line tonight
  • They will stay on the cut line, start back burning and dropping slurry
  • Tomorrow they hope to finish the line to Young Road
  • The fire has not crossed Hwy 260 to the east of Forest Lakes
  • The fire is NOT in the development.  The Forest Lakes Fire Department is currently cutting trees and clearing brush away from the homes on the south side of Hwy 260.  They are determined not to lose one home
  • The FLFD is also patrolling for spot fires within the development


  • There are 9 sheriff officers patrolling Forest Lakes watching for break-ins and looting.  There have been no incidents reported at this time
  • There are currently 1000-1200 firefighters on scene and LOTS of heavy equipment
  • The Red Cross continues to provide food for all personnel
  • The Highway Patrol is continuously monitoring the highway - No on is allowed up Hwy 260

A Reuters photographer leans out of a moving vehicle to take a photo during a Thursday morning tour for the news media along Arizona 260.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

Weary evacuees wait anxiously to hear when they might be able to go home again. Homeowners from Timberland Acres, Pinedale Estates and Clay Springs will get van tours Friday and Saturday but will not be allowed to get out of the vehicles.

The fire reaches 417,000 acres, but remains quiet near Show Low.

The bigger worries lie near Forest Lakes southwest of Heber, as flames there flare up.

In Payson, evacuees from Heber and Overgaard are increasingly angry over what they call a Show Low bias shown by the Forest Service.

Several express frustration at hearing officials talking on and on about saving Show Low while saying little, if anything, about their communities.

Fire crews make more progress. Containment is listed at 10 percent.

June 28, 2002

Friday, June 28, 2002, 10:30 am:
  • Morning report from the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations web page - Along the western/northwestern side, fire spotted over planned control line.  Crews pulled back to Highway 260 and Young Road to burnout.  Fire will continue to spread below the Rim within Canyon Creek, south of Forest Lakes, with potential to cross the Rim and threaten Highway 260.  Structure threat remains high in the Forest Lakes area.  Due to the loss of containment line in this area, significant perimeter growth is expected.  In the southwestern portion, secondary control line north and west of Cibecue was completed and conducted overnight. 
  • The fire is currently traveling up Mule Spring Canyon toward FS300
  • The fire line and back burn from FS300 to Canyon Point Campground was completed last night
  • 17 loads of slurry were dropped in the area
  • The fire is expected to reach that fire break today
  • The next two days are critical
  • They can not back burn during the day, due to winds and the heat.  Therefore, they will continue with the backburn south of Forest Lakes on the Young road tonight to meet up with the line coming up from the Cibeque area
  • 500 more firefighters are expected to arrive in the area today
  • Firefighters as well as FLFD personnel are patrolling the subdivision watching for spot fires
  • The Highway Patrol is increasing its efforts to prevent anyone from returning to Forest Lakes

Firefighters from Huron Manistee watch as a smoke plume rises over the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire as it makes it's way towards Forest Lakes Friday afternoon.

Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic



Friday, June 28, 2002, 3:30 pm:
  • Things are not looking good.  The fire is working its way up Mule Spring and Sheep Springs Canyon and is currently only 0.5 mile from Forest Lakes
  • The fire has not reached the fire break at this time
  • The folks up there are preparing to evacuate everyone without a high level clearance should the need arise

Let us pray for the safety of our friends and loved ones who have stayed in the subdivision these last days and for those who have come in from local and national fire fighting teams.  We also hope the fire line holds!

Firefighters from Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest watch as the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire makes its way towards Forest Lakes Friday afternoon.

Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

Friday, June 28, 2002, 7:30 pm:
  • We've made it through the day without the fire entering Forest Lakes
  • The group of canyons just south of Forest Lakes has been nicknamed the "Devils Claw"
  • The fire came up over the rim and laid down
  • It came up two of the claws and reached Mule Tank and Bruno Tank southeast of Forest Lakes
  • The firefighters will continue to work on the fire break from Canyon Point Campground down to the Young Road, FS512, tonight, but they don't expect to get much further than that
  • Our FLFD worked all night, with backhoes and tractors and were relieved early this morning by 200 new Strike Team members
  • All personnel, including private citizens who used their own equipment, backhoes, etc, to cut the new line have been evacuated to FS237
  • There has been some spotting near FS99, north of Hwy 260 but firefighters were immediately dispatched
  • There has been no fire or spotting in Forest Lakes
  • Tomorrow will be another tough day like today
  • They are constantly working to reinforce the line with heavy equipment and slurry
  • The fire has not breached the line south of Forest Lakes
  • Special Note for those on White Mountain Online.  They have been given permission to return to Pinetop.  Therefore, will be out of service between 4-10 a.m., Saturday, June 29.  Email to these folks will be out as well.


Gov. Jane Hull talks with Overgaard hardware store owner Rick Hefling after the U.S. Forest Service's briefing at Rim Country Middle School in Payson Friday morning.

Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic



Brian Sterns, left, talks with other firefighters from the Huron Manistee crew while taking a break from preparing Forest Road 512 for a burn-out operation. Firefighters hoped to remove fuels from the area to stop the fire from going into Forest Lakes.

Pat Shannahan/The Arizona Republic

Firefighters continue their fight to prevent a tongue of the "Rodeo-Chediski" from reaching hundreds of homes in the Forest Lakes subdivision, about 40 miles west of Show Low as flames overrun a containment line.

Crews set backfires to choke the oncoming blaze, bulldoze clear areas around the homes, spray fire retardant on structures and get ready to put down any spot fires caused by flying embers.

Fire authorities complete their damage assessment in Heber and establish a hotline to check on the status of their homes.

Navajo County officials announce that homeowners from Timberland Acres, Pinedale Estates and Clay Springs will get van tours of their neighborhoods today and Saturday, but will not be allowed to leave the vehicles.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., visits Show Low and Springerville and talks up the need to change policies to allow for better forest management. He joins a chorus of politicians who blame hardcore environmentalists and their refusal to support any efforts to thin the forest.

By nightfall, officials say they have 27 percent of the fire contained. More than 447,000 acres are burned, and at Forest Lakes, flames are within 2 miles of homes.

June 29, 2002

Saturday, June 29, 2002, 10:30 am:
  • They are optimistic today
  • There are no fires in Forest Lakes
  • The fire by Bruno Tank burned itself out
  • The fire has reached the fire line in the southeastern corner of the subdivision
  • We had one major spot fire, behind the Ski Lodge, but it was extinguished
  • They have completed the 20 mile fire break from FS300 to Canyon Point Campground and 8 miles down the Young Road
  • Forest Lakes is full of smoke - it is hard for the folks there to breathe and to see
  • The development is 'crawling with fire trucks' watching for spot fires in the area
  • Morning report from the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations web page - Along the southwest, a backing fire is working toward the 512 Road and Cibecue.  Two miles of dozer line and and site preparations at the OW Ranch and Fish Hatchery, along with 6.5 miles of road prepared for burnout.  In the northwest, the fire was very active in Canyon Creek and Mule Creek Canyon, south of Forest Lakes, crossing portions of Highway 260.  Threat continues to be high as efforts are underway to protect structures in the Forest Lakes area and a powerline west of Forest Lakes.
June 29

Thousands of people forced to leave Show Low in a mass exodus begin returning to their homes - to dead flowers, rotting food in refrigerators, smoke-scented air , but home sweet home.

Businesses embrace the return of normalcy. Wal-Mart workers unload crates of tomatoes, lettuce and apples as local shoppers arrive to grab cleaning supplies and produce to restock their refrigerators. On many businesses, 'welcome back' signs greet the return of town residents.

People wave and honk at one another as they drive into and around the town. "I'm just so happy. I can't do anything but cry," Barbara Williams says.

As night falls, federal sources and White Mountain Apache Tribe officials confirm that an arrest has been made in the human-caused "Rodeo" fire that started near Cibecue, the first of two blazes that later merged as one giant inferno.

The offender, the officials say, is a Bureau of Indian Affairs firefighter. More details would be released the next day, they say.

At the end of the day, the fire has charred 455,000 acres and cost at least $17 million to fight.

Saturday, June 29, 2002, 2:30 pm:


June 29 - Hwy 60 near Heber, AZ

Saturday, June 29, 2002, 7:30 pm:

  • Things are looking real good for Forest Lakes
  • There has been no fire damage in the subdivision and not spot fires have been discovered
  • The fire itself has been quiet most of the day
  • The firefighters continued to expand the fire break south of the development
  • Tomorrow they are expecting favorable winds.  If that happens the fire will burn back on itself
  • It has been reported that it is not a complete burn out below the rim from Forest Lakes.  There are patches of ponderosa pine that did not burn
  • Most of the fire that came up Canyon Creek, or the thumb of 'devils claw' is now under control
  • The officials predict only a 20% chance that the fire will enter Forest Lakes at this time

Burned out area on Juniper Ridge. Tower is still standing.

June 30, 2002

Sunday, June 30, 2002, 11:30 am:
  • Things are looking very good for Forest Lakes
  • The fire is staying laid down, the winds are favorable and there is NO fire in Forest Lakes
  • The firefighters feel they have turned the corner on the fire in the area on Canyon Creek (the thumb of the devils claw).  However, the fire did burn up to the Canyon Point Campground
  • There are currently 12 sheriffs patrolling Forest Lakes, 1500 firefighters on the line, 45 fire engines and tankers, 16 pieces of heavy equipment, 8 wild land fire equipment vehicles (brush trucks) and 8 LARGE dozers
  • When the smoke lifted this morning and the slurry planes came in, they were surprised to see a number of stands of ponderosa's not burned.  This means the backfires stayed on the ground, burning only the ground fuels, which is what they hoped for. 
  • When we are allowed to return to our community, residents will probably notice a lot of ash on the ground, some 2-3 inches in diameter, which have been blown in from the fire
  • Upon returning, the first sign of the fire will be in the area of the aspens at the Young road.  Then signs of the fire will be seen off and on on the south side of Hwy 260 all the way up to the campground
  • There are no signs of the fire on the north side of Hwy 260
  • The firefighters now move into their 'mop up' stage.   Extinguishing or removing burning material near control lines, felling snags, and trenching logs to prevent rolling after an area has burned, to make a fire safe, or to reduce residual smoke.
  • A number of the firefighters are already making plans to leave
  • Everyone has a positive attitude up there!  
  • Morning report from the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations web page - In Zone 2, burnout operations along Highway 260 and south of FS Road 512 have been completed and is now tied-in with Zone 1.  This essentially turns the corner on the west side of the fire.  Fire continues to be active below the Rim in the OW Ranch area, but is not a threat at this time.

June 30

The suspect in the "Rodeo" blaze is identified as Leonard Gregg, a 29-year-old contracted firefighter.

Authorities charge him with two counts of setting fire to timber, underbrush, grass or other flammable material - the second relating to a separate one-acre fire that was quickly put out.

The authorities reveal that boot prints at the fire scenes and an odd conversation Gregg had before the "Rodeo" fire broke out helped trip him. Gregg allegedly told a woman he was visiting that he had to go home because he and other firefighters would be summoned to fight a blaze in the rodeo grounds area - this before the "Rodeo" fire had been reported.

According to a statement of probable cause filed by a BIA agent, Gregg admitted to setting the fires because he was angry at his parents' drinking problems. He also admitted that he expected to make money from the fires given his seasonal employment with the BIA, the statement says.

At a preliminary hearing in federal court, Gregg tries to apologize publicly. "Can I say I'm sorry for what I did," he asked federal Magistrate Stephen Verkamp. The magistrate cuts him off, saying Gregg shouldn't make any admission of guilt at the hearing.

Meanwhile, firefighters gain more of an upper hand against the blaze even as it grows to 464,000 acres: Containment is up to 45 percent and fire lines at Forest Lakes hold for a second day.


Sunday, June 30, 2002, 7:30 pm:

  • No Fires, No Hot Spots - everything looks GOOD for Forest Lakes!
  • The firefighters completed the burn out of all the canyons south of the development
  • There is a problem with the water, due to the constant draw  fighting the fire.  Don Wilson has taken test samples to see what the problem is and how serious the problem is.  The results and the resolution could take a couple of days.  This could delay residents from re-entering the sub division.

July 1, 2002

Jason Merydith, 23, of Tahoe, NV sprays foam on a hot spot while working 2 miles west of Forest Lakes Monday afternoon.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic


Monday, July 1, 2002, 9:00 am:
  • Morning report from the Southwest Area Wildland Fire Operations web page - In Zone 1, fire behavior was significantly lower yesterday than in previous days.  Some backing fire continues along the southern perimeter within control lines.  In all remaining zones, containment lines are holding.  Some interior islands continue to burn with isolated torching occurring.  Planned actions rodeo629progress.jpg (136531 bytes) for today include mop up and holding the line throughout the perimeter.  Thirty-eight miles of line still remains to be completed.  Latest progression map.
  • Matt Ryan, Coconino County Supervisor reports that Forest Lakes has been declared a disaster area.  This means that residents can qualify for FEMA and businesses in the area will be able to get financial aid.  More information will be forthcoming.
  • We would like to collect photos, news footage or personal footage of the fire that almost took our community.  If you have anything you would like to contribute, copies will be made with the originals returned to you.  We hope to put a narrative together to add to the "History of Forest Lakes".  Please contact the webmaster.


Monday, July 1, 2002, 3:00 pm:

  • Matt Ryan called Frank Astemborski  to inform him that FEMA is getting into the picture.  The office of Governor Jane Hull has declared Forest Lakes a disaster area.  This means that residents can put in for aid for the evacuation.  In order to apply to FEMA, residents must call 1-800-621-3362
  • The water was tested today and it was judged to be ok
  • Power was out to the subdivision for 6+ hours sometime over the weekend during the firefighting effort
  • Coconino County Emergency Services officer, Jim Driscoll visited Forest Lakes today. Based on the results of his visit, authorities will determine when residents can return.
  • Coconino County officials are also considering additional clean-up days for Forest Lakes

Nelson Billie, 34, of Lower Greasewood, Arizona touches the trunk of a tree with his hands to check for heat 2 miles west of Forest Lakes Monday afternoon.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

Gary Gene, 42, and Willard Slim, 31, of Fort Defiance, work together on the fire line west of Forest Lakes Monday afternoon.

Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic


July 6, 2002

July 6 - The Rodeo-Chediski Fire has burned 468,638 acres and is 95 percent contained. The number of structures burned stands at 426.

Crews continue to patrol fire lines and mop up spot fires in all zones of the fire and rehabilitation teams have begun their work. The rehabilitation is in an effort to mitigate the fire's impact on local communities, the various watersheds, and Apache cultural sites.

At 6:00 AM today, the Payson Media Center and the Show Low Incident Command Post were closed.
At 6:00 PM tonight, the Area Command Center (928-369-7322) will be closed.


(July 7)

Rodeo Fire: Started 6/18 
Chediski Farms Fire: Stated 6/20 

Acreage: 468,638
Containment: 95%,
estimated today 
Resources Assigned:
1 National Type I Teams
1 SWA Type II Team
1,130 Personnel
1 Type I Hot Shot Crews
15 Type II Crews
8 Helicopters
42 Engines
25 Dozers
16 Water Tenders

- School Districts
- Navajo, Coconino & Apache Counties
- Local Fire & Police Departments
- State of Arizona

July 2002

The aftermath - Bison Ranch

By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident

By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident


By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident


By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident


By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident


By Jeff Williams
Forest Lakes resident


Thank You Pot Luck
to the Firefighters and Volunteers that saved our community
from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire - 2002
Saturday, July 13, 2002

We hoped to see 200 residents attend the pot luck.  Instead, we had over 300!  Tables were set up inside the Library and outside on the basketball court for food and dining.  We had special guest speakers, including: 

  • Jim Driscoll, Coconino County Emergency Services officer

  • Robert Klebs, FEMA

  • Matt Ryan, County Supervisor

  • Kate Klein, District Ranger, Apache/Sitgreaves NF

  • Pete Davis, Sheriff

  • Jim Littlepage, FLFD Fire Chief

Afterwards, the firefighters and volunteers were presented with a special T-shirt expressing the thanks from our community for saving us from the fire.  The front of the shirt has the FLFD/EMS logo, the back says:  

"Rodeo-Chediski 2002
Our thanks to you
A job well done
You fought the fire
...and you won!"  

The color of the shirt is symbolic of the fire jackets the firefighters wore during the 13 days they fought to keep the fire from entering Forest Lakes.

Submitted by Mary St. Germain
Submitted by Mary St. Germain

 Saying Grace

Submitted by 
Dianne Post

The call goes out, "Let's eat!"

Submitted by 
Dianne Post
Submitted by Mary St. Germain

Plenty of food inside the library!
Submitted by Jeannie Van Lew

The lines are forming outside as well!

Submitted by 
Dianne Post

Inside and outside, everyone has a good time
Submitted by Jeannie Van Lew
Submitted by 
Dianne Post

Sally Kennedy, Fire Chief Jim Littlepage, Ranger Kate, ?, ?, County Supervisor Matt Ryan

Submitted by 
Dianne Post
Submitted by 
Dianne Post

Board members to present T-shirts
Frank Astemborski, Chick Ideker, Al Mager, Jack Greenleaf, ?,
Dianne Post

Submitted by Jeannie Van Lew

Some of the firefighters receive their "Thank You" T-shirts from FLOA

Submitted by Jeannie Van Lew

More firefighters receive their T-shirts while Chief Littlepage makes remarks

Submitted by 
Dianne Post





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