Lessons Of The Rodeo-Chediski Fire


It's hard to believe that just one year ago, all our thoughts, energy and prayers were focused on the victims of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire burning out of control to the east of us.

In fact, on this very day one year ago, forest officials announced to the 800 evacuees at the makeshift shelter set up at Rim Country Middle School that the fire was all of 5-percent contained. An agonizing week later, they would be allowed to return to what was left of their lives in Heber, Overgaard and Forest Lakes.

Talking to some of the victims a year later, several insights emerged:

  • The human spirit is truly indomitable. Overgaard resident Emma Moos -- speaking for her neighbors in the hard-hit Pinecrest Lake subdivision that lost 168 homes -- talked of looking forward and not back. All but 10 of her neighbors have or are in the process of rebuilding their homes and lives.

"Once you hit bottom, there's only one way to go," Moos said.

  • Living with fire is unnerving, to say the least. Watching accounts of the Aspen Fire and seeing the smoke from the Picture Fire stirred nightmarish memories and outright fear in the victims of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.
  • Life is truly unpredictable. As much as we know deep-down that we should live each day as if it were our last, there's nothing quite like an event the scope of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire to drive that point home.

But perhaps most important, the first anniversary of the largest wildfire in Arizona history should not pass without remembering the wonderful outpouring of love and support heaped on the victims of the fire by Rim country residents. With countless acts of kindness and caring, this community went above and beyond to ease the burdens of its neighbors during their time of need.

One veteran Red Cross staffer who had worked at many evacuation shelters around the world said he had never seen anything like the one set up and manned by Rim country residents. Besides an abundance of the essentials, evacuees were treated to gourmet meals and even enjoyed the services of a concierge. Many of you invited total strangers to stay in your homes so they wouldn't have to sleep on cots.

In many respects, the past 12 months have been contentious in Payson, especially in the political arena. So pausing to reflect on what has to be one of our finest moments as a community is most appropriate.

Since fire is likely to be part of our lives for years to come -- at least until the drought eases and the forest around our communities is thinned -- it's comforting to know that we live in a place where people can be counted on in times of crisis.

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