Documentary about Colorado’s Fourmile Fire

A documentary that appeared on Colorado Public Television last year about the Fourmile Fire told the story of the fire through the eyes of local residents, including the filmmaker who lived in the area. The fire burned 6,200 acres and destroyed 168 homes west of Boulder, Colorado on Labor Day in 2010.

The film is excellent and well worth your time. The story of the first four days of the fire is told almost entirely through interviews with residents, some of whom decided not to evacuate in order to take personal responsibility for protecting their own house. Others found paths around roadblocks and went into the fire area to save their own and other houses. A quartet of men self-described as gay went from house to house putting out fire as it approached homes, keeping about a half dozen from burning. The film also has some very good footage of fire activity.

After it was over, I realized that the film did not show or interview a single professional or volunteer firefighter. I believe it had a photograph of one fire truck. It did have a small amount of audio of firefighters giving a sizeup on the radio during the early stages of the fire. Ms. Michelle Bauer Carpenter, who directed, produced and edited the film told Wildfire Today that she attempted to interview numerous firefighters but they all declined to participate.

We have embedded the documentary below.

Below is the description of the film from YouTube:


Published on YouTube Oct 16, 2012 by Michelle Carpenter

Above the Ashes is an award winning documentary that reveals untold heroes, the strength of mountain communities and the devastation caused by the catastrophic Fourmile fire.

Above the Ashes documents the Fourmile fire through the eyes of Sunshine residents who joined together to fight fire, taking action and saving numerous homes in the Sunshine community. Using haunting visuals Above the Ashes reveals tales of bravery, family, friends, loss and the rebuilding of a community.

A long time Boulder resident Michelle Bauer Carpenter and her family live in the historic mining town site of Sunshine located in the Fourmile fire burn area. “The losses our friends suffered are absolutely heartbreaking. Over half of the homes in our neighborhood were lost to the fire. As soon as we were allowed home I began documenting the devastation”.

Above the Ashes was directed, produced and edited by video artist Michelle Bauer Carpenter, presently assistant professor in Digital Design at the University of Colorado Denver College of Arts and Media.

Above the Ashes features original score by Brandon Vaccaro and closes with the musical piece Smoke and Tears composed by long time Sunshine resident and nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter Rebecca Folsom. The piece features a haunting 5.1 surround sound mix by sound editor and re-recording mixer David Bondelevitch, MPSE, CAS.

Above the Ashes was recently awarded two Heartland Chapter Emmy Awards in the categories of best topical documentary and best program editing. The Heartland Chapter is a chapter in the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS)

and the Emmy Award represents the best in the television industry. The entries were judged by seven chapters from across the county and included San Francisco/Northern California, Miami/Suncoast, Chicago, Michigan, Lone Star, Mid Atlantic, and the Rocky Mountain Southwest chapters.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Documentary about Colorado’s Fourmile Fire”

  1. Unlike Nathan J. on 10/30, I don’t think that this was a case of firefighters being media-shy. The documentary simply was not about them.

    As one of the interviewees says, you have no guarantee that the fire crews are going to save *your* home (or your dogs or your horses, etc.), so sometimes the only alternative is for you and your neighbors to do so — especially when the firefighters are spread thin, still organizing and staging, and the fire is moving.

  2. Excellent example of why “Prepare, Stay and Defend.. or Leave Early” WORKS

    It is interesting to compare it to the “same old processes” being tried over and over again in the U.S. and being RE-BRANDED as “Ready, Set, Go”… without any real emphasis on proper PREPARATION of homes in the wildland so they can be adequately protected/defended by the homeowner rather than by the taxpayers.

    Somewhere in the middle is the truth.


    1. “Prepare, Stay and Defend.. or Leave Early” DOES NOT WORK. I don’t think the friends and family members of the 172 people that died during the black saturday fires in Australia would think the same about stay and defend. I think your opinion would different if an untrained civilian got hurt or died during the four mile fire. Repeated luck is not success.
      or find the better ABC documentary

      1. I question your knowledge and background in AUS bushfires? Their concepts have worked well over many years, but sometimes Mother Nature overwhelms even good plans.

  3. It’s a shame that the fear of lawsuits have gotten to the point that firefighters are unwilling to put themselves on the public record in any way. I’d bet the farm fear’s of of being subpenaed is why no fire fighters agreed to be interviewed. Just about all firefighters I know personally go so far as to cover their faces or turn away when news media are around on incidents and are extremely careful about posting anything on social media. I guess folks have decided litigation solves all problems and we miss out on first responders voices because of it.


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