New film tells story of Granite Mountain Hotshots

Local man Sean Misner was among 19 firefighters who died

The new film “Only the Brave” premieres at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Parks Plaza Theatre in Buellton. Actors including Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Taylor Kitsch portray the ill-fated Granite Mountain Hotshots. Photo contributed

FYI

The new movie “Only the Brave” tells the story of local firefighter Sean Misner and others who died fighting an Arizona wildfire in 2013. At the local premiere at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Parks Plaza Theater in Buellton, his mother hopes to raise money for the family of Los Padres Battalion Chief Gary Helming, who died in August on the way home from the Railroad Fire in the Sierra National Forest.

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By Raiza Giorgi

When Tammy Misner learned about a movie being made to tell the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy, she wasn’t sure she could handle it.

“I thought it was too soon. It’s only been a few years and the pain is still fresh, and then there was the recent death of the local firefighter and I thought maybe I could put my pain to positive use and help his family,” Misner said.

The new film, “Only the Brave,” premieres at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Parks Plaza Theatre in Buellton. It stars Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Taylor Kitsch.

“Sean was an elite firefighter and the group of men he was with were the very best. It’s still hard for me, but I think of him all the time and see him everywhere,” his mother said.
Photo contributed

Misner is the mother of Sean Misner, who grew up in the Santa Ynez Valley and was one of the 19 firefighters who died when they were overrun by a wildfire burning erratically near Yarnell, Ariz.

It was started by lightning on June 28, 2013, and moved close to the small town of 700 residents. Strong winds fanned the fire quickly from 300 to 2,000 acres.

“Sean was an elite firefighter, and the group of men he was with were the very best. It’s still hard for me, but I think of him all the time and see him everywhere,” she said.

“I was contacted by the actor who was picked to play Sean. I never spoke directly with him but sent him texts, and my husband and … (Sean’s) wife talked to him. I just told him tidbits about his character, and when I saw the movie I immediately spotted him and knew he was Sean,” Misner said.

However, she added, when the story got close to the fateful moment she got so emotional that she had to leave the theater.

“I want Sean to be remembered. I want them all to be remembered,” she said.

In the Santa Ynez Valley, Misner was active in sports and was always a social kid, his mother recalled.

“His smile was amazing and he had this personality that just drew people to him,” she said softly.

He graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 2005 and lived with his friend Jason Lambert in Wyoming and Alabama before moving back to the valley. He met his wife Amanda while working at a small grocery store, and they were married in September 2012.

Misner came from a firefighting family. His grandfather, Herbert C. McElwee, was chief of the Montecito Fire Protection District, and his uncle Terry McElwee is also with Montecito Fire.

Misner moved to Prescott Valley, Ariz., with his wife in September 2012 to work with the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting crew.

When Sean Misner’s wife brought his ashes back to the Santa Ynez Valley, firefighters lined every overpass for nearly 500 miles.
Photo contributed

On June 30, 2013, two days after the erratic fire began, the Hotshots met their terrible fate as the flames surrounded them. Even deploying their emergency fire shelters couldn’t save them from the intense heat.

The lone survivor of the crew was Brenden McDonough, 21 at the time, who was serving as lookout. He was rescued by Brian Frisby of the Blue Ridge Hotshots when the others were trapped.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, it was the greatest loss of life for wildland firefighters since 1933, the deadliest wildfire of any kind since 1991, and the greatest loss of firefighters in the United States since the September 11 attacks.

At the time of his death, Misner’s wife Amanda was seven months pregnant with their first child, Sean Jaxon Misner, who was born in August 2013. She declined to comment for this article.

The best way Misner could think of making the local movie premiere a positive experience was helping another local fire family who recently lost a loved one.

Los Padres Battalion Chief Gary Helming died in a traffic accident in August while returning home from the Railroad Fire in the Sierra National Forest. Helming began his career with the U.S Forest Service 22 years ago. He is survived by his wife Andrea, 6-year-old son and twin infants.

Ron and Tammy Misner accepted an award from the Solvang Rotary Club in 2014 honoring their son Sean’s memory.
Photo contributed

“I am hoping some of the proceeds from the premiere will go towards the Helming family, as they have young children. At the very least we will be taking donations to their family. I might not be able to watch the movie but at least I will know we can make a small difference for another family,” Misner said.