Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Only the Brave


Sadly and ironically, as I write this most of the citizens of the little town of Redding, California, pop. 89,861, are being evacuated before what is known as the Carr fire, which has already obliterated several neighborhoods. One of those evacuees is Valerie, one of our friend Dean Ing’s daughters. Dean has been writing about how to survive catastrophes for a long, long time, and now some of that is being put to the test. His home in Ashland, Oregon, is also threatened, though not nearly as badly. (If you haven’t read his novels concerning the cutting edge of aviation, like The Ransom of Black Stealth One, as well as many other subjects, you are really missing something.)

This film opens with the title “Based on real events,” and for once, it is almost totally accurate. Very few details have been changed, and those only for dramatic purposes. It tells the awful story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, part of the fire department of Prescott, Arizona. These are the guys (I don’t know if any women have ever qualified as elite hotshots) who go in and work a forest fire up close, with just shovels and chain saws, building fire lines, burning brush ahead of the fire to deprive it of fuel.

It’s very, very dangerous, as was proved when the Yarnell Hill fire in 2013 took an unexpected and unpredictable bad turn and overran nineteen of the twenty hotshots and burned them alive. One man, who had been appointed as lookout, survived. Unimaginable to me how he must have felt. It was the worst loss of life in a wildfire since the Griffith Park fire in Los Angeles in 1933, which killed 29 civilians.

They use the real names of real people. The surviving families were involved, though most of them were initially reluctant. Afterward, they seemed to have no complaints. It is an intense, heartbreaking film. It genuinely honors the heroes of Granite Mountain. I choked up at the end, and did not feel I had been manipulated. The script is good and tight, and the acting is good. The names you will know are Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, and Andie McDowell. One I didn’t know is Miles Teller, who plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, the sole survivor. Then I recalled him as the drummer in Whiplash, where J.K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor.