HEBER, AZ - Residents across eastern Arizona are still trying to recover a decade after one of the state’s largest wildfires ripped through their community.
The Rodeo-Chediski fire broke out in the Summer of 2002, as two fires combined to burn nearly half a million acres of land and hundreds of structures near Show Low.
“We came back and it was like the house was vaporized,” said Stephanie Rife, whose Heber home was destroyed by the fire.
Many other residents have similar stories. Thousands evacuated to nearby towns as fire crews battled the flames, only to return to find their home hadn’t survived.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” said Rife’s neighbor, Bonnie Fitzsimmons who also lost her home.
Fitzsimmons told ABC15 she found out her home burned down after she saw it up in flames on TV.
“It was pretty devastating to know that everybody’s home was just gone,” she said.
She has since rebuilt her house, but said it doesn’t quite yet feel like home.
“Thank God for the house, I’m glad it’s here, but my heart was in my older home,” Fitzsimmons said. “That was my home.”
In an effort to rebuild and recover from the fire, some have found it difficult to receive what they consider a fair payment from their insurance company.
“All of a sudden you go from enjoying life and having money to not being able to pay your bills,” said Martha Adams, whose home and store burned down.
Adams said they received about $60,000 less from their insurance company than what they believe they should have received. The couple said that extra money has kept them from re-opening their store and turning an even larger profit.
“I would say life has really been miserable,” said J.C. Adams.
While the community continues to grow back from the fire, many still fear another one could hit the area again.
“I just think it would take the heart out of me and other people if something like that were to happen again,” Fitzsimmons said.
The Rodeo-Chediski fire was the largest fire in Arizona's history until the Wallow fire in 2011.
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