Rodeo-Chediski fire marks 10 years

SHOW LOW, AZ - Residents across eastern Arizona can vividly recall the chaos that took over their community when one of Arizona'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.

"It was smokey, all over the place," said resident Randy Delong, who stayed behind with his wife to help the fire crews.

The Delongs told ABC15 they evacuated their home near Heber for one night in 2002 and promptly returned to help the fire crews.

"This is our home and we wanted to protect it as much as we could," Randy said.

Randy helped move equipment, while his wife, Marijane, helped cooked meals for the firefighters.

"There [were] a lot of people in this town that did a lot of sacrificing and did a lot of work," Marijane said. "Because of [that], this town is still standing.

The fire burned nearly 500,000 acres of land and hundreds of structures and homes. Forest officials estimate it could take as many as 200 years for the forest to full recover.

"It presents an opportunity we wouldn't have otherwise had," said Dee Hines with the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

Hines said crews have to help restore the forest,, by planting trees, using prescribed burns and monitoring the progress.

"It creates an opportunity to put the area that's burned here back into a natural condition," he said.

Hines said the fire also stresses the need for forest thinning in order to prevent future fires.

The Rodeo-Chediski fire was the largest fire in Arizona's history until the Wallow fire in 2011.

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