Stan Atkinson / 1960: "The Donner Ridge forest fire started here, high in California's Sierras, on August 20 of 1960. Now this is all that remains of 39,000 acres of some of America's finest timberland, recreation land and watershed. This is what we call the black harvest."
| || ||
All that remained of 39,000 acres of some of America's finest timberland, recreation land and watershed was a black, charred wasteland.|
The documentary "Black Harvest" can be directly traced to my conversations with a friend who was a member of "Keep California Green." When I learned how many lives - both human and animal - were affected by the fire over the long-term, I knew I had the subject for my first half-hour documentary, and the first in Sacramento.
I ended up making one unlikely woman a celebrity. When 87-year-old Nettie Rambo talked to me about her loss, with ashes from the fire still on top of her hat, folks couldn't help but love her.
Stan Atkinson / 1960: "When you left, what did they have to do to make you leave the home?"
Nettie Rambo / Lost Home To Fire: "They said, 'C'mon, C'mon. We was down there waitin' for yez. You gonna get burned up if you don't go.' I didn't wanta go. He said, 'Well, the fire's right down there. You can see it.' And I hadda get out or I would've. that man had to jump that ditch up there by Arruba Springs to keep from gettin' burnt. He'd been burnt up."
| || ||
I remember being extremely touched by the deer. They were looking for food and running for cover, but there was none left.|
Stan Atkinson / 1960: "What are you going to do now, Mrs. Rambo?"
Nettie Rambo / Lost Home To Fire: "I don't know. Red Cross to help me and they said they'd find me a little two room house somewhere and give me some clothes. I'm 87-years-old."
Stan Atkinson / 1960: "You don't look it."
Not everyone had Mrs. Rambo's ability to "act naturally" in front of the camera. Back then, being on television was a huge personal event.
We went to Reno to show how folks there were without power because of the fire. But the minute we turned on the camera, the people in line began a sort of "wooden" walk. It was a much different scenario than you find today when TV cameras are so commonplace.
Thanks to the US Forest Service helicopter, our cameras captured aerial shots of the wildlife and land. It was, I believe, the first time we had shot from a helicopter. And I remember being extremely touched by the deer. They were looking for food and running for cover, but there was none left.
| || ||
When 87-year-old Nettie Rambo talked to me about her loss, with ashes from the fire still on top of her hat, folks couldn't help but love her.|
We also logged at least one triumph.
Stan Atkinson / 1960: "With man's help - in the form of a wide fire break - a bit of history was protected here on the edge of the Donner Ridge burn. These two stumps are believed to mark the site of an encampment of the ill-fated Donner Party."
Working - as we did in 1960 - with film made a long project like this a major undertaking. Video and digital editing are a breeze compared to what we had to do, splicing bits of film together and then running multiple rolls at the same time so we could do dissolves, rather than cut from scene to scene.
When it came time for the music soundtrack, I'd roll the music live and hope to make just the right hit. We did some of those takes dozens of times before we got it just right.
But the work was fun, and in the end we had a documentary we were all very proud of.