The Rodeo/Chediski Fire

Photo by Robert M. Winston
The Rodeo Fire crosses Arizona State Highway 260 near Linden, AZ.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
The efforts to save this structure were not successful. Hazardous materials that were hidden in and around this structure ignited, creating a potentially deadly scenario for firefighters.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
Firefighters and apparatus at a staging area are dwarfed by the immensity of the Rodeo Fire.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
This staging area was later evacuated and resources were moved to a safer location.

The incident that became known as the Rodeo/Chediski Fire, a gargantuan wildland and wildland/urban interface fire, began on June 18, 2002, as the Rodeo Fire in the Sitgreaves-Apache National Forest near Cibique, AZ. It was determined that the Rodeo Fire was deliberately set by a seasonal wildland firefighter, who admitted starting the fire so that he could earn money fighting it.

Photo by Robert M. Winston
A briefing was held at 6 o'clock each morning. The crowd of firefighters kept growing as the Rodeo Fire increased in size.

The Rodeo/Chediski Fire consumed 468,683 acres of private and national forest lands and forced 30,000 residents to be evacuated from nine communities. A total of 426 homes were destroyed; many other outbuildings, mobile homes and motor vehicles were burned. The town of Linden lost 100 homes and the town of Heber-Overgaard lost 268 buildings and homes.

Property damage was conservatively estimated at $30 million, and fire suppression costs approached $50 million. At the height of the fire, on June 29, nearly 4,500 firefighters and support personnel were on scene, using 30 helicopters, 251 engines, 92 water tenders/tankers and 90 bulldozers.

Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and a retired Boston Fire Department district fire chief. He is a wildland/urban interface and structural fire service presenter and adjunct college instructor. Winston can be contacted at 928-541-9215 or by e-mail: