'It could be worse'

Communities pull together and help neighbors rebuild in fire's aftermath

SHOW LOW, Ariz. — Now that the worst wildfire in Arizona's history is contained and the firefighters' work is winding down, the communities suffering the devastating effects of the conflagration begin their work of pulling together and helping neighbors rebuild not only their homes but their lives as well.

Fire officials put the total number of homes lost from the Rodeo-Chediski fire at 467. Several businesses were lost also. Early damage estimates are more than $30 million.

When flames consumed a house, it did a complete job. Those who lost their homes lost everything in them, too. The only things saved were a few items hastily grabbed when evacuation orders came.

Some members of the Show Low Arizona Stake live in communities hardest hit on the east side of the Rodeo-Chediski fire, including Pinedale, Linden, and Clay Springs, and nearly all were evacuated as fire threatened the town of Show Low, located 170 miles northeast of Phoenix.

Show Low Stake President Jay Waite said that members of his stake who were affected by the fire are coping "pretty well."

"We've been greatly blessed," he said. "The numbers that we are looking at are almost miraculous." The latest count showed that only 12 full-time residents in his stake lost their homes. At least 25 other LDS families living outside the stake lost summer homes. "Initially we thought the numbers would be much higher, but it is not proving to be the case.

"It could have been so much worse," he added. Show Low was evacuated on June 22 as fire officials warned the fire would sweep through the area's most populous town. At that time it was not a matter of "if" but "when."

Although the fire came within a half-mile of the town, it never burned through, and residents returned to their homes a week later.

President Waite said members of his stake, as well as his community, are grateful for the many prayers offered in their behalf. "We express our deepest gratitude for those prayers," he said. "We have felt them. I think that we were watched over and blessed in many, many ways."

Local priesthood leaders said that those who have lost homes are staying with family, friends or finding rental property. Bishops are surveying the losses and assessing the needs and resources of their neighbors.

"We're cleaning up and sharing things," said Wendell Allen, first counselor in the Show Low stake presidency and a resident of Linden, a small community just west of Show Low. "We're sharing appliances and clothing and are working to help one another," he said. "We have a tradition in these communities of coming together.

"Many good and righteous people have lost homes," he said. "And we have all faced the idea of losing our homes. Many prayers have been answered, but sometimes we have a test — the trial isn't turned aside — and we have to go through it. But we feel that Heavenly Father has been very kind.

"Maybe the test for all of us now is to see if we'll help one another. It gives us the opportunity to be more united and appreciate each other."

"A lot of good can come out of trials and tribulations," said Cole Davis, former bishop of the Pinedale Ward. "We are already seeing people working side by side with neighbors who previously they might not had even said 'Hi' to."

Although government and charitable agencies are on hand in the communities affected by the fire, local Church members are also helping fire victims. Donations of food, clothing, and other items filled the cultural hall of the Pinedale Ward building. Local priesthood leaders said they don't need any further donations but are asking any who want to offer help of any kind to go through the area presidency and not through the local leadership.

On the west side of the fire's path of destruction, Bishop Ron Squire, of the Heber 2nd Ward, Taylor Arizona Stake, had contacted all his ward members. The majority of the homes destroyed by fire were in the Heber-Overgaard area, which has about 4,000 residents in the winter and three times that in the summer. His ward covers most of the area where homes burned.

"I think we witnessed a lot of miracles," he said. Out of hundreds of homes burned by the fire, only three belonged to full-time LDS residents. "Some were saved; I don't know why," he said.

"Almost to a person there is a real sense of gratitude," he said. "We feel bad for those who lost homes, but it could have been so much worse. There was a hand in here besides man's. We were blessed."

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