Originally Published: May 3, 2016 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Brendan McDonough became known worldwide as the only survivor of the Granite Mountain Hotshot tragedy, but his new book takes readers well beyond that distressing characterization.
From his difficult childhood, to his escalating teenage drug use, to the physical challenges he faced as a rookie Hotshot, to the anguished day he lost his closest friends, and the therapy that ultimately saved him from PTSD, McDonough’s book “My Lost Brothers” delves deep into his life.
The 276-page book is being released today, Tuesday, May 3, and McDonough will conduct a reading, a question-and-answer session, and a book-signing at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Peregrine Book Company, 219 N. Cortez St., Prescott.
“My Lost Brothers” was co-written by McDonough and Stephan Talty, the author of “A Captain’s Duty,” which was the basis for the film “Captain Phillips.”
A news release from his publisher, Hachette Books, states that Conde Nast Entertainment is turning the story into a film currently titled “No Exit,” and the company is collaborating with McDonough exclusively.
Written in the first-person, “My Lost Brothers; The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor” offers a highly personal account from McDonough, who was serving as the lookout for the Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30, 2013, the day 19 of the crew members died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
He barely escaped the firestorm himself, and he gives a harrowing account of watching the “triggers” – points that had been set to determine when to retreat – being quickly overtaken by flames.
McDonough writes poignantly of the friends – “brothers” – he made among the Hotshot crew after being hired in 2011.
Although he ultimately flourished at the Hotshot job, it wasn’t an easy ride for McDonough, who had previously been a heavy user of everything from marijuana to ecstasy to heroin.
“Mentally, I was ready for Granite Mountain. Physically, I wasn’t even close,” McDonough confides in the early chapters of the book. “I was a pale, thin 145-pound party hound. I’d never run more than two miles in my life. I’d been a stoner for eight years and a drinker for six. I was detoxing off heroin. And I could barely run a half mile without getting a stitch in my side.”
But he soon found a purpose in the Hotshot work: “That summer I saw the full spectrum of hotshottin’. It was a blur of smoke, chaw, exhilaration, being dog-tired – and brotherhood.”
McDonough also writes emotionally of his connection with his fellow Hotshots. They called him Donut – an evolution from “Mc Do Not,” based on his early weaknesses – and he appeared to thrive on it, later getting it tattooed on his leg.
In numerous instances, he writes of the life guidance and encouragement he received from Hotshot Superintendent Eric Marsh, as well as fellow Hotshots Travis Turbyfill and Chris McKenzie.
McDonough also writes candidly about the feelings of guilt and loneliness of being the sole survivor. “I was asking myself what everyone must be thinking: Why had I made it out when my crew hadn’t?” he wrote at one point. Later he wrote of being “famous for something you didn’t do: Die. It’s harsh, but it’s the honest truth.”
The news release states: “After this tragedy, Brendan grappled with immense survivor’s guilt. However, what eventually brought him peace was his decision to embark on a personal journey inspired by the grace and compassion his Granite Mountain brothers gave him – a journey of faith.”
Watch for more coverage of McDonough’s book in The Daily Courier.