An Introduction by Brian Kramer

The Rodeo-Chediski fire burned itself into the memories of everyone who lived along the Mogollon Rim, racing through the treetops at 60 mph, burning almost half-a-million acres and destroying 426 structures in the White Mountains.

Even 15 years later, the blackened scar of that fire haunts drivers along Arizona 260 and U.S. 60.

At the conclusion of the horrendous fire, former Independent publisher Diana Kramer wrote a column that outlined how we needed to mourn, but also rebuild and focus on moving forward.

“We do not know what the impacts will be, either in the dollars or human hearts,” she said.

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But what was important, she said, was fixing the problem of our overgrown forests and communities that weren’t very firewise and in turn, rebuilding the vital forest industry in the area.

Although I wasn’t here then, I realize that the newspaper’s role covering this historic fire didn’t end when it was put out.

It’s our responsibility to the communities we serve to discuss the progress we’ve made since then.

So here we are, 15 years later. What have we done?

The staffs from the two newspapers that serve the communities along the vast Mogollon Rim — the White Mountain Independent and Payson Roundup — have teamed up to answer that question.

”Catastrophe: A Forest in Flames” will start by detailing the fire that changed the landscape of forest management in Arizona, which debuts today. We’ll discuss how a century of bad decisions left the entire West primed for catastrophe. In truth, the chain of mistakes started with the horrific 1910 Big Burn — which scorched 3 million acres in three states and killed 87 people. This disaster set the stage for the Forest Service’s fire management strategy.

The longtime strategy of “put it out by 10 a.m. the following day” removed fire from its natural role in the forest, but the mission put the Forest Service at odds with the natural world.

Over time, our forests became overgrown and incredibly prone to deadly crown fires — largely because of the fire suppression strategy, over-logging and grazing, then the lack of logging and sustainable grazing.

Leora Schuck, who wrote a column for the Pinetop-Lakeside News, a newspaper my family purchased and later consolidated with the Independent, described the former landscape of the forest in the mid-1900s like this: “One could see vistas through the tree trunks for hundreds of yards. It may be that sheep kept the small stuff grazed off, or that fires from lightning cleared the ground. … Ah yes, those were the days.”

The series will then discuss the firefighting crisis, building codes and “Fire wise” initiatives and how the Forest Service’s fire management approach has evolved over the years.

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We’ll outline the timber industry — its successes, like Forest Energy, the wood pellet plant in Show Low — and the challenges with thinning projects and the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.

It will detail the success of the Payson Ranger District’s thinning efforts and how the White Mountain Stewardship saved Alpine from the Wallow Fire.

We’ll also discuss the area’s largest wildfires, starting with the deadly 1990 Dude fire, and what lessons were learned from them.

The series will conclude with a solutions overview.

As the publisher of these newspapers, I’m proud of the work we’ve done and will do in this series.

I believe we have the responsibility to educate our readers on the critical issues related to wildfires.

I don’t want to see our beautiful forests go up in flames.

A proud sponsor of Catastrophe: A Forest in Flames

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