Prescott College Community Attends Talk and Private Screening of Only the Brave

Prescott College Community Attends Talk and Private Screening of Only the Brave

October 27, 2017 - By Prescott College

Faculty Member Doug Hulmes Spoke About Heritage Tree Saved by Hotshots

The Prescott College community had the opportunity to attend a private screening of the Hollywood feature film, Only the Brave, a movie that honored the loss of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots from Prescott, Arizona. Before the film began, Paul Burkhardt, Prescott College Vice President and Provost, and long-time faculty member Doug Hulmes had a chance to speak to the alumni, faculty, staff, and current students in attendance. They shared their thoughts on the increasing fire seasons, and an 1800-year-old Alligator Juniper tree and its connection to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Paul Burkhardt began by setting the ecological background that we are currently living through, termed “the century of fire” by scholar Stephen J. Pyne. 

Doug Hulmes shared his personal connection to the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their legacy. He recalled the human-caused Doce Fire and the valiant efforts of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. No homes or human lives were lost during the Doce Fire and the Granite Basin Recreation Area was saved. Not only did these men save human lives, they saved the life of the largest and oldest recorded Alligator Juniper tree in Arizona. A few weeks later, 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives while trying to save the community of Yarnell, Arizona from another fire. Aside from being the largest and oldest Alligator Juniper in Arizona, this tree holds a much more intrinsic value to Hulmes and the state of Arizona. Sacred in more ways than one, this tree has become a living memorial to the Granite Mountain Hotshots. 

Doug Hulmes told those in attendance that while leading a group from Norway on a hike, he and Prescott College alum Brian Stultz, who now works for the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, went to measure the Alligator Juniper in order for it to be designated as a Cultural Heritage Tree. Coincidentally, Brendan McDonough, the sole-survivor and 20th member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, along with two filmmakers, appeared out of the charred chaparral. Not having met McDonough before, Hulmes was surprised and honored that he could meet him at the living memorial. Hulmes retold the story that McDonough willingly shared with him that day. After containing most of the Doce Fire, the Hotshots made a firebreak in an attempt to save the Alligator Juniper. With the fire coming their direction, the Hotshots had to leave and hope that the tree would continue to stand strong. The next day, the Hotshots came back to see if their efforts made a difference. The chaparral around the tree was burned, but the tree was saved. There were flames coming out of a few of the branches, so the men climbed up into the tree and put out the flames with their own water bottles and dug out the remaining embers with their hands. Afterwards, the last photo was taken of the crew. The photo features the Hotshots in a pyramid in front of the tree. McDonough mentioned how strange it was as Hotshots that they saved this tree because they cut down trees to save houses and lives. In this case, they were proud of what they had done. 

Since then, Hulmes and McDonough have become good friends. Hulmes stated that, “what McDonough has gone through, none of us can fully imagine.” Through this tragedy, Hulmes has a strengthened understanding of how a tree or a place can become sacred. As a child, Hulmes was awestruck by the old growth White Pine his parents took him to and was astonished that anyone could only see the monetary value of matchsticks in this tree. After his brother was murdered and the tree he and his brother raised was cut down, Hulmes made a commitment to always work on helping people understand the significance of trees. With the Alligator Juniper being nearly 2,000 years old, Hulmes and many others consider it to be a recorder of nature’s memory. Tying in his study of folklore in Scandinavia and Norway, Hulmes concluded that, "if a nearly 2000-year-old Alligator Juniper tree could tell the stories of all that had occurred in its surroundings, surely one of the most requested would be the heroic saga of the valiant men in yellow uniforms who suddenly appeared out of the thick chaparral and saved the ancient tree from a fire that was started by the careless ones. May the tree continue to stand as a recorder of nature’s memory and a living memorial for those who cared."