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Chapter 6-Welcome President Bush BY Trudy Balcom

ROUND VALLEY — Less than a year after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush visited Round Valley to offer comfort and hope to the evacuees of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

The stop in Round Valley was a whirlwind visit, lasting only a couple of hours, but Steve West, town manager for Springerville, remembers it well.

People were “really shocked” when he came here, West said.

“Nobody comes to small-town America, especially someone like him,” he said.

West, who was chief of police for Springerville at the time, said he received a call a couple of days prior from the White House, notifying him about the planned visit, just as the community was flooding with evacuees.

“The White House?" he remembers asking the caller.

By 4 p.m. the day before the President’s June 25, 2002, visit, West said the Secret Service had arrived at Springerville Airport. By 8 a.m. the next day, they had everything set up. Local law enforcement was not burdened during a time of duress, West said.

West said the Secret Service officers carefully planned the President’s short drive from the airport to the Round Valley Dome, timed how long it took to drive the route, and set up an alternate route, plus a safe holding place for the President along the route should he come under an assassination attack.

Reporters and media from across the U.S., and even international outlets, had already flocked to Round Valley to cover the plight of the evacuees. They now turned their attention to the President.

When the president arrived, however, there were no threats to his security. People welcomed him and lined the streets to see the motorcade. Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh and Congressman J.D. Hayworth were also on hand for the President’s visit.

West, along with Eagar Police Chief Scott Garms and a representative of the White Mountain Apache Nation, met with the President. The leader of the free world was dressed casually and wearing cowboy boots. He was easy to talk to, West said.

“He was just a real personable guy, real down-home. He’d sit there and talk to us like he’d known us all our lives,” he said.

The President got a briefing on the fire from the Forest Service and visited the Round Valley Dome to talk with the evacuees.

Firefighters, Bush told families made homeless by the fire, were “not quitting until this thing is whipped."

The President’s visit came on a day when evacuees needed a ray of light. The fire had reached within a quarter mile of Show Low's city limits and had burned 375,000 acres and hundreds of homes at that point.

The President promised help to the victims of the fire and a review of forest policy.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure the Forest Service has got wise forest policies,” he said.

The American flag waves in the middle of the destruction caused by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.

Spark by Pia Wyer & Jordan Glenn

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