Leonard Gregg, Starter of 2002 Rodeo Fire, Scheduled to be Released From Prison Tomorrow

  As firefighters continue to battle the Wallow fire in eastern Arizona, the starter of half of the monstrous 2002 Rodeo-Chedeski fire is scheduled to be released from prison tomorrow.

Leonard Gregg, an Apache who lived in Cibecue, admitted he'd started two fires -- Rodeo and Pine. The former wildland firefighter did it for the money; he'd hoped to work on the conflagrations.

Valinda Jo Elliot, who started the Chediski fire to signal a helicopter while "lost" in the high country, never was charged.

The Rodeo and Chediski fires eventually merged, becoming the largest wildfires in Arizona history -- until that grim record was surpassed this week by the Wallow fire.

Both Elliot and Gregg were sued for their roles in the fires. Gregg was ordered to pay $27.9 million in restitution, which he'll obviously never be able to do. The civil case against Elliott was stalled over issues of jurisdiction.

Gregg, who was 29 when he was indicted, reportedly suffers from brain damage from his mother's alcohol abuse.

Because he supposedly was "fascinated by wildfires" as a kid and grew up to be one of the state's most notorious firebugs, we're wondering if his release can't be stalled a few weeks, until after the coming of monsoon rains and the end of fire season. 



KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.