BEHIND THE SCENES with Queena Sook Kim and Frank Stoltze

The fire at Oakridge was big news in California. How did you make The Ashes of Oakridge stand apart from the other news coverage

Frank Stoltze (FS): So often news reporters swoop in, cover a story, and leave. That's what happened at Oakridge too. It was such a tragic story -- the loss of so many homes -- we thought Oakridge deserved more. So first of all we decided to produce something longer. We also decided to talk to a lot of residents and spend time with them to get a good understanding of what they went through. And what they're facing. The chronology of the fire was largely produced by Queena. That definitely stands apart

Queena Sook Kim (QSK): Yes, the Oakridge fire was big news in California. In fact, KPCC suspended its fund-drive to cover the spate of fires that were devouring greater Los Angeles that week. But like so much event-driven coverage, the stories felt drive-by. This sentiment was reflected in the number one complaint Oakridge residents had about the press coverage: They keep calling Oakridge a "trailer park!" Residents said the implication was that they lived on the margins and that Oakridge was a transient community, the last stop before homelessness. They felt the characterization was unfair. They'd say, "This is the Beverly Hills of Mobile Home Parks! It was a tight-knit community, our very own Mayberry!" And so we decided to hang-out at Oakridge and figure out the real story

What surprised you as the story developed?FS: First, that people were so willing to open up their lives and talk to us. Very few people said "no, I don't want to be interviewed." Second, I didn't fully appreciate the intensity of the fire until I talked to residents and firefighters. Some people had to run for their lives. At the same time, people displayed amazing stoicism and maintained incredible hope despite losing everything

QSK: What surprised me was the residents' ability to articulate the depth of their loss -- and gratitude -- so soon after the fire. For example, there's a part in the documentary where resident Jeff Elwood starts choking up about his neighbor who lost his wife a few months before losing his home to the fire. Meanwhile, Elwood's home wasn't insured, he's unemployed and just got over a cancer scare with his wife, which wiped them out financially. In the end, I think that depth universalized the story -- it made it relatable to people who've never gone through a fire or haven't given a second-thought to insuring their home

The Ashes of Oakridge is very sound rich -- especially in the on-the-scene sounds at the remains of Oakridge, and in the file footage recreating the helicopter water rescue drops from the firefighters. How did you approach the sound design

FS: I collected a lot of this sound, Queena designed and produced most of it. Queena rocked

QSK: Regarding Frank's on-scene segment at the remains of Oakridge, I'd like to say that at KPCC we're lucky to have a handful of veteran radio reporters -- who've worked in public and commercial radio -- and have kept the tradition of live-shots alive. I think Frank recorded the scene of him walking through the rubble -- narrative and sounds -- in one take. He made it sound so casual and in-the-moment that you felt you were right there with him

As for sound design, in the case of the fire tic-toc, I tried to use sound visually. Firefighters were telling us it was one of the most -- if not the most -- intimidating fire they've encountered. Their stories were so sensual: I could hear the explosions, I could feel the heat, I saw a tidal wave of fire coming towards me. I wanted to illustrate that through sound

There's a wide variety of music in **The Ashes of Oakridge , from the ex-resident playing the harmonica to more mainstream radio music. Do you consider the music selection integral to the story telling in **The Ashes of Oakridge

FS: I'm a news reporter and rarely use music in my stories. In this documentary, music was crucial to creating the mood and moving the story along. When we found out Jeff played the harmonica, we sent one of our producers, Jackson Musker, to record him. I actually would have ended up using him more, but I like the harmonica and probably would have overdone it

QSK: In some pieces, you use music to highlight emotion or spice up the dialogue. But in this piece -- where residents' emotions were so intense -- I tried to use music to give listeners a break or to let them soak-up what was just said

How did you decide on the dual narration

FS: It would have been boring with just one of us. It's always nice to hear two people. And I guess the man and the woman thing always works. I also tend to be a little more serious in my announcing. Queena is more conversational. So we thought we'd compliment each other

QSK: Production-wise, our attitude was the more variety the better. We wanted lots of voices, stories, point-of-views. If listeners can't relate to one story, no worries, another one will be up in a few minutes. It was this same attitude that led me to dual-narration. ### The piece becomes more personal towards the end. Why did you make the decision to include Frank's parents' story

FS: I had been doing a series of interviews with my mother. She had talked about the fire that destroyed her home, and how that affected my dad. Queena and I realized that Oakridge residents were too close to their loss to fully appreciate what impact it might have on their lives. Sure, they showed stoicism now but what about in a year or ten years? Mom provided a perspective on fire that they couldn't.