President Bush visits natural disaster

Gail K Pechuli
6/30/02

CHEDISKI, Ariz. ? President George W. Bush addressed the "Rodeo-Chediski" wildfires' victims on June 25.

"Out of evil can come some great good," the President stated firmly. "I believe there's a gracious and almighty God looking out for the People."

The President's visit brought encouragement among evacuees and fire personnel, particularly leaving one long-lasting impression on an Apache helitack crew from Whiteriver, Ariz. After spending 15 minutes with the President, informally briefing him on the situation and having Secret Service take pictures of the gathering, the helitack crew became instant celebrities on the reservation's radio station KNNB.

The President, in turn, met with White Mountain Apache Chairman Dallas Massey and reportedly noted to him that the helitack crew "knew what they were talking about."

For 30 minutes, the President and Chairman discussed ways to help the tribe regain its economic and developmental standing for the future. Since the start of the "Rodeo-Chediski" wildfires, Arizona's Governor Jane D. Hull has been involved with the combined efforts in combating this natural disaster. The Governor declared Arizona in a State of Emergency and requested federal aid. President Bush signed a proclamation to name Apache county, Navajo county and the White Mountain Apache Tribe federal national disaster areas.

Earlier, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted $20 million to aid the fight against the Arizona wildfires.

The Red Cross and other numerous grass-root organizations are providing comfort and shelter for the 30,000 evacuated residents. The Emergency Operations Center in Phoenix and Incident Command are coordinating the multi-state and federal resources pouring into Arizona. Other national wildfires burning out of control are limiting resources; however, the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire became the highest priority, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Originally, the "Rodeo-Chediski" wildfires both started on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and quickly advanced northeast into the resort communities of Pinetop-Lakeside, Pinedale, Heber, Linden, Clay Springs and Show Low.

In the early stages of the "Rodeo" fire, tribal members became targets of resentment from evacuees who accused the White Mountain Apache Tribe of mismanaging its forest. The tribe and the BIA Fire Management stand firm on their commitment to managing and maintaining their forest health.

"The tribe is not accountable for the winds or Mother Nature's actions," said Chairman Massey at an Incident briefing June 23.

"We must stay united," President Bush urged, encouraging the firefighting efforts and praising the overflowing support. "We are all in this together."

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