TEMPE, Ariz. — A movie that chronicles a 2013 wildfire that killed 19 Arizona firefighters debuts next week on the heels of another fire tragedy in California that has riveted the nation.
“Only the Brave” is based on the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died while fighting a wildfire near Yarnell, Arizona.
Actors from the movie appeared at a red carpet event in Arizona on Tuesday as relentless fires ravage wineries, rural towns and neighborhoods in Northern California — an event not lost on the cast and crew of the picture.
“When I turn the news on this morning, to see images that look like they were taken from our film, is surreal,” director Joseph Kosinski said.
Fire officials say the wildfires in California have killed more than 20 people and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses since they started Sunday.
Cast members Josh Brolin, Miles Teller and James Badge Dale attended the Arizona premiere with some of the firefighters’ families and the lone member of the crew who survived.
On June 30, 2013, the 19 elite Arizona wildland firefighters were stationed in a relatively safe position on a ridgetop that already had burned. But for unknown reasons and without notifying anyone, they moved down the mountainside through an unburned area where they were trapped by a wall of flames when winds shifted the fire toward them.
Kosinski said he didn’t want to make a sad movie and that he wanted it to celebrate the joy the men had for firefighting and the brotherhood they shared.
The lone survivor, Brendan McDonough, said seeing the movie was cathartic for him and he thought the movie “did our brothers justice.”
“I think they really created an authentic film that really shows just what the job is about, what the lifestyle is, what the families go through,” McDonough said.
McDonough served as the lookout for the crew when they descended into the brush-choked area. He notified the crew of the rapidly changing weather that sent winds swirling erratically and caused the fire to cut off their escape route.
Then, he swiftly left his post for safety. Fire managers have said he did exactly what he was supposed to.
Brolin plays Eric Marsh, who was the crew’s superintendent and the oldest member of the group.
Brolin said he loves any project that has to do with firefighters and making people conscious that “these guys are putting themselves in peril constantly … for the safety of their communities.”
Jane Marsh, Marsh’s mother, said she spent three hours with Brolin before they started filming the movie, which was shot in New Mexico.
“Even though I cried all through it when I first saw it in August, he portrayed Eric really well,” Marsh said.