Sean Misner, 26

Sean Misner grew up in the rolling wine country north of Santa Barbara, Calif., a quiet, hard-nosed high school football player who made up for his lack of size with a fearlessness noted by teammates and opponents alike.

Life seemed simple enough for boys in Santa Ynez, said Mr. Misner’s close friend, Jason Lambert. The two of them would play catch at night in the parking lot of an Albertsons supermarket, the only place in town that was lit, and Mr. Misner would tell Mr. Lambert how he planned to become a firefighter one day, like his grandfather and uncle before him.

“This was his lineage, the pedigree he came from,” Mr. Lambert said. “His favorite movie was ‘Backdraft.’ ”

When Mr. Misner’s knees got banged up from football, dashing his hopes of college sports stardom, he decided to start training to become a Hotshot. Eventually, he moved to Arizona and was selected to join the Prescott-based crew — the most exciting thing in the world for him aside from his wife and unborn child, Mr. Lambert said. With the season bearing down, he would tell Mr. Lambert over the phone that he couldn’t wait to fight his first fire.

On Sunday night, Mr. Misner’s brother-in-law called Mr. Lambert. “I dropped the phone and started crying. It was basically like my brother had died,” he said. “I keep expecting his white truck to come down the driveway.”

— DAN FROSCH
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Sean Misner