Photo credit: Seattle-pi

The recently released movie, Only The Brave, interested me for a number of reasons.  First, over the stunning Seattle summer we had a couple of weeks with uncharacteristically hazy skies, the result of massive wildfires burning both to our north in British Columbia and to our east on the other side of the state.  Rarely do we see the effects of the annual “fire season” so it was top of mind still.  Secondly, our escape from the Seattle fall/winter weather is in Arizona.  The local news extensively covered the loss of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots both when it happened and each year since as a reminder of the mortal danger wildfires pose.  Lastly, as a Science Fiction author, I was interested to see how a director (Joseph Kosinski) who made his mark directing Sci-fi films (Tron: Legacy and Oblivion) would do with such different material.

Last night my wife and I went to see Only The Brave.  Our favorite movie theater has $6 ticket prices all day on Tuesdays with nice recliners and bottomless popcorn bowls.  Sure, none of that is necessary but why not be comfortable?  The theater was fuller than we had seen it in awhile so we clearly were not the only Arizona folks interested in learning more about these wildland firefighters.  After the movie we shared our thoughts on the way home.  We both agreed it was a well-done film.  The fire scenes were shockingly believable.  We also both felt like we really learned a lot.  Fighting wildfires is very different from fighting structure fires.  These firefighters operate differently from their community counterparts who work out of your neighborhood fire station.  Successful fighting of wildfires takes into account wind, humidity, cloud formations, terrain and other variables.  Not only do crews clear foliage in a line to eliminate fuel for the raging fire and dig trenches, but they often SET FIRES to steer the fire.  They refer to this as “a burn”.

Photo: National Interagency Fire Center

We also were not aware of the foil “shelters” deployed to try to save the lives of the firefighters if escape is not an option.  In the case of the 19 men of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, the intensity of the fire was more than the shelters could protect from and they all perished in those shelters.

The movie was about much more than the training and bravery of wildland firefighters.   Like most compelling stories, the underlying tale is one of the human condition.  In this film we have the tough and determined supervisor of the team who forms an unexpected bond with the newest team member. We witness the evolution and growth of this young man and as the story unfolds, we see the bonds form within his personal relationships, his the team members and ultimately we learn what motivated the leader to take a chance on what seemed a risky addition.  In the end, that is what makes all stories worth watching or reading.  Beyond the heroics which most of us can never imagine, there is the camaraderie within the team, how they grow and change that touches something in each of us.

The casting, script and directing all did justice to the memory of brave heroes.  Be sure not to leave early.  Before the credits roll, there are pictures of the actual men portrayed.  Much like the heroes who go to war in our name and to protect our freedoms, these largely young men took great risks and paid the ultimate price to save lives and homes.  Only The Brave is a story that needed to be told and a movie worth seeing.

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