View from ‘Above the Ashes’ coming to TV

Devastation of Fourmile Fire explored in assistant professor’s documentary

View from ‘Above the Ashes’ coming to TV

For five days in September 2010, the Fourmile Canyon Fire raged over ridges and down gullies, leaving long fingers of destruction over more than 6,000 acres. In all, 168 homes were destroyed. Perhaps no other area was as affected as the community of Sunshine, which is surrounded by the ruin: 63 homes burned to the ground, 67 remain mostly intact.

Devastation isn’t the only story to come out of Colorado’s costliest blaze: There were heroes who saved homes and valuables with little more than dirt and shovels and a mighty dose of determination.

The events of those days are told in a new documentary from Michelle Bauer Carpenter, an assistant professor in digital design at the University of Colorado Denver College of Arts and Media. Her home was one of those saved by men in the community who refused to heed official evacuation orders.

“Above the Ashes” will air at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, on Colorado Public Television, Channel 12. Watch the trailer below.

“It’s about normal people doing extraordinary things and doing what you can do to help out your community,” said Carpenter, who directed, produced and edited the half-hour film.

Immediately after the fire, she began video-documenting the devastation and seeking out other footage and photographs. With a faculty development grant, she was able to shoot video of the area during a helicopter flyover. She accessed dispatcher calls and began talking with neighbors.

“For me, it was my way of processing the fire. I just wanted to understand what happened. It was my way of dealing with it.”

As she began collecting stories, however, she said she was amazed “by what these folks did. And their stories began to intertwine.”

In one instance, as four men worked to save a house, flames began eating away at the deck. When Sean McCollum, Charles Doersch, Matt Holmes and Chris Corl realized they could not save the building -- the home of artists -- they went inside and grabbed as much of the artwork as they could and carried it to safety. The residents, Steve and Dee Spencer, and the four rescuers only met one another when Carpenter recently held a screening party for the film.

“Above the Ashes” includes an original score by CU-Boulder alumnus Brandon Vaccaro and a song, “Smoke and Tears,” composed by singer/songwriter Rebecca Folsom, a longtime Sunshine resident.

The ache of loss still is prevalent in the community and the entire burn area. Many residents who lost homes decided not to rebuild. Although 168 homes were destroyed, Carpenter said, only about 45 building permits have been issued for the area.

There is hope in Sunshine, however. Residents are more tight-knit than ever, offering to help one another in any way possible. Wildflowers and grasses from re-seeding efforts have poked through the ashes in many areas. And last weekend, Carpenter and her neighbors attended a housewarming party in honor of the first home to be rebuilt in the little community. Inside, the new walls of the Spencer home will showcase paintings and other artwork saved from Fourmile’s flames.