November 17, 2011

The massive Fourmile Canyon fire surely would have engulfed Michelle Carpenter’s house were it not for the actions of several residents who stayed behind to fight it.

The blaze that began Labor Day 2010 and became the largest property damage fire in Colorado history is the subject of Carpenter’s documentary, “Above the Ashes.” The film tells the story of seven mountain residents who refused to evacuate the historic mining community of Sunshine and, for five days, saved numerous homes in the neighborhood.

It will air on Colorado Public Television, Channel 12, at 9:30 p.m. Nov. 29.

Fueled by wind gusts over 60 mph, the Fourmile Canyon fire quickly spread to Sunshine where Carpenter, an assistant professor of digital design in the College of Arts & Media at the University of Colorado Denver, has lived with her family for 15 years.

“The fire was out of control. There was no way to stop it,” Carpenter said. “It was like a perfect storm, it truly was.”

Carpenter, who interviewed more than 40 people and spent 300 hours editing fire footage supplied by 15 people, was helped in the project by two CU Denver students. Recent College of Arts & Media graduate Tyler Singson provided the opening title graphics and Roxanne Davison, a senior in digital design, created the map showing the fire’s burn progression.

Carpenter, who specializes in documentaries and experimentary work that draws from personal experience, received a $1,000 YUMPS (Young Upwardly Mobile Professors) grant to allow her to enter “Above the Ashes” into 25 film festivals.

View faculty grants and information about YUMPS.

In the Sunshine neighborhood, 67 houses remained standing and 63 burned to the ground. Overall, 168 homes were destroyed by the Fourmile fire, resulting in $217 million in insured property loss.

“Above the Ashes” is a tribute to people who step in at times of crisis.

“There’s just all kinds of local heroes who you don’t realize are there,” Carpenter said. “These are normal folks who do extraordinary things.”

In other recent CAM film news:

  • In August, documentaries by CAM faculty members David Liban and Hans Rosenwinkel both aired on Rocky Mountain PBS. Liban’s film “Roll On” is about people living with neuromuscular disorders, while Ronsenwinkel’s “Tuberculosis — The White Death” chronicled the worldwide scourge of tuberculosis.
  • Two of Liban’s other documentaries — “Carhenge: Genius or Junk?” and “Geocache” — are currently airing around the country on PBS.
  • Also, Liban’s “Mortal Lessons” won an Emmy Award last year. It is a film about end-of-life issues and is currently airing on the Documentary Channel.
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