SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) — Many people have watched Donna Ramaeker work in recent weeks, as she quietly resurrected the mural she painted on the wall inside the chapel at Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine more than a decade ago.
Softening blue and pink clouds with the edge of her hand, Ramaeker said the visitors always remain fairly quiet as they watch. For the visitors, it is a rare pleasure to see Jesus rising, almost literally from ashes, to once again open his arms wide and welcome people back to a beloved local landmark.
It's tough for Ramaeker to imagine that just one year ago today a fire started that would tear through the chapel, descending on Ash Canyon, destroying nearly everything in its path.
But area residents would find hope in what the fire spared.
The 75 foot cross, 31 foot statue of the Virgin Mary and the chapel's stone walls could be seen clearly from the highway the morning after the Monument Fire ravaged Ash Canyon. Within a few months the cross was lit again and the recovery began.
"Frankly that was sort of the first beacon of hope," said Gene Mundt, a member of the Our Lady of the Sierras board of directors. He had lived a mile from the cross for 11 years and could see it from his back patio.
When the fire jumped the highway, it came within just a few feet of his house, on all four sides, Mundt said. The firefighters managed to save his home but he still felt sorrow for all the people in Ash Canyon who lost theirs.
"I personally had the feeling, when we saw the cross light up, that we were going to be OK and that we were going to make it," he said.
In the months that followed, a dedicated group of volunteers helped to restore the chapel and now it stands almost exactly as it did one year ago.
"Our intent the whole time was to make it as much like original as possible. We've done, I think, an admiral job on that," Mundt said.
Just months after the fire, a steady stream of people trudged up the mountain, through the ashes every day to pray, asking when and if the landmark would be rebuilt, he said.
Regardless of their faith, Mundt thinks seeing that the cross and statue were still standing amid so much destruction gave people hope.
"In a lot of ways it was a beacon of hope for the entire community," Mundt said. "It's just an inspiration to know that things might just be OK after all."
To Mundt, the chapel is a place that stands apart from its surroundings.
"For me there's something special about it and I can't even describe it," he said.
It is just a short walk up the hill below the chapel, which is lined with the restored Stations of the Cross.
Yet, it's a destination that can transport a person further than the steps they take to get there.
"There is a peace here," Ramaeker said. "It's amazing how many people come."
While she painted, a husband and wife from Agua Prieta peeked inside the chapel and took a seat.
Whispering in Spanish, the man said that it looks very nice again. His wife said it is very beautiful.
"It's hard to believe it's been a year," Ramaeker said.
Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.