As the miles passed on the drive to Santa Barbara County from Prescott, Ariz., the remains of Sean Misner were greeted at every turn.
The vehicles carrying the ashes of the 26-year-old firefighter who was killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona — as well as his parents, Tammy and Ron, and Misner’s wife, Amanda — were flanked by fire trucks and law enforcement as they drove up Highway 101 to Santa Ynez, where Misner went to high school and where his family still lives.
Misner was a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting team employed at the Prescott Fire Department. He and 18 fellow firefighters with the 20-member unit perished June 30 when they were overtaken by the deadly and unpredictable wildfire in the mountains about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Traveling through multiple counties and cities across Southern California, firefighters from those communities lined up to greet the family driving their way, saluting Misner’s sacrifice.
The Misners’ motorcade passed under each overpass, and the appreciation was wordless, but it was there, and it was strong.
Welcome home, brother, they all seemed to say. Thank you.
The Montecito Fire Protection District, a fire department hit particularly hard by Misner’s death, lined up on the San Ysidro Road overpass around 5 p.m. to greet the family.
Misner was the nephew of Montecito Fire Division Chief Terry McElwee, and grandson of the late Montecito Fire Chief Herb McElwee.
“We wanted to honor his return back into the county,” said Geri Ventura, the department’s spokeswoman who had just returned to her office from the procession.
“It was emotional,” she said. “He is a member of our family.”
Misner’s family left Prescott on Saturday morning, and a Montecito firefighter was with them the whole time, and was still with them on the way to their Santa Ynez home, Ventura said.
The family attended the public memorial held Tuesday in Prescott Valley, Ariz. The service brought out more than 30,000 people, including firefighters from around the world, to honor the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots members.
The road back to Santa Barbara County was no different.
“They were honored the entire way home,” Ventura said.
Ventura was returning to Santa Barbara County on Highway 101 about two hours before the procession and saw several jurisdictions setting up equipment on overpasses to honor Misner.
“I just lost it when I saw that,” she said.
Ventura has been helping with the arrangements for Misner’s local memorial, which will be held at Santa Ynez Valley High School on Monday evening. She said donations to help with the event have been plentiful, with local hotels even donating rooms for the family and for firefighters from Prescott.
“It’s been a united effort to make this happen in a way that honors him,” she said.