Initially there were two separate fires. The first fire, the Rodeo fire, was reported on the afternoon of June 18 near the Rodeo Fairgrounds on the Fort Apache Reservation. An arsonist was arrested on June 29 and was later charged. By early evening, despite the efforts of firecrews, around 1,200 acres were ablaze. Increasing wind speeds fed the fire to over 2,000 acres by the following morning and when wind speeds increased to around 25 mph the fire grew rapidly -- increasing fourfold over the next three hours.
The Chediski fire was first reported on the morning of June 20 near Chediski Peak, it had been started by a lost hiker who was later arrested and charged. Again fed by strong winds it had spread to 2,000 acres by mid-afternoon and by the following morning it covered over 14,000 acres. By June 21 the Rodeo fire had consumed around 150,000 acres. Around 8,000 people were evacuated, by the end of the fire around 30,000 people had to be moved.
The two burning areas approached through crosswinds over June 21-22 as a further 11,000 people were ordered to leave their homes. The burning areas joined on June 23 having consumed around 300,000 acres of woodland. The fire's progress slowed after the two merged and by June 26 the fire was 5% contained by backburning, cutting and slurry - protecting the settlements of Clay Spings, Linden and Pinedale, but 460,000 acres had burned. The fire was 28% contained by June 28 but it was not fully until control until July 7 at a cost of about $50 million. About 400 homes were destroyed in Pinedale and other small communities. The fire was declared a disaster area.
Of the woodland destroyed the majority (280,992 acres) was part of the Fort Apache Reservation. Of the rest, 167,215 acres was destroyed in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and 10,667 in the Tonto National Forest. The remaining destruction occurred on private land.
After the fire there were efforts to stabilze the landscape by Burn Area Emergency Recovery teams. Water bars, wattles and K-rails were put in place and there were over two weeks of aerial seeding, dropping around 5 million pounds of winter wheat or indigineous grass seeds over 180,000 acres.
Certain political figures, including Senator Jon Kyl, blamed the fire on 'hardcore' environmentalists and their opposition to logging to 'thin' the forests.