Hotshot Firefighter Killed in Montana Fire Last Week | 2 Firefighters Killed in Montana in 2 Weeks

Firebrains | FireFire
Brent Witham

2 Hotshot firefighters have died battling wildfires in the past 2 weeks in Montana.

29-year-old Brent Witham from Mentone, CA died on Wednesday in what Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is calling a “tree-felling” accident.

Brent received CPR on scene and was airlifted to a local Missoula hospital.  He was pronounced dead at that hospital.

Brent was a member of the Vista Grande Hotshot crew based in Idyllwild, CA.  Brent was working with 374 other firefighters in the mountains southwest of Lolo Peak, MT.

Lolo Peak fire map.

The Lolo Peak Fire has burned 7,100-acres.  Evacuation warnings are in place for residents in the Highway 12 corridor.

The blaze has burned a little under 7,100 acres with evacuation warnings remaining in place for some residents along the Highway 12 corridor.

“We call it ‘an incident within an incident.  You have to refocus after a situation like this. I think we’re taking it easy on people, letting them know if they need more time to handle the stress and debrief, it’s all part of the process when things like this happen.  But everyone knows this is dangerous work, and even with the right protections and protocols, accidents can happen.

“The option was out there to stand down for other crews, but I don’t know if any did,” Struble said. “You want your folks to be able to grieve their way, but the fire keeps burning.”

– Mark Struble, the Lolo Peak fire’s public information officer said of Brent’s death

Brent’s death was the 2nd firefighter death in Montana in 2 weeks.  A 19-year-old firefighter named Trenton Johnson was killed while fighting the Florence Fire near Seeley Lake, Montana at 5pm on Wednesday.  A tree fell on Trenton.

A Chinook helicopter heads back to the Lolo Peak Fire with another load of retardant.
Credit: Andy Lyon

Hotshot firefighters are some of the most highly trained wildfire personnel.  They work in teams of 20 and are required to have extremely high levels of fitness, training, and technical skills.

“Lisa and I send our deepest condolences to the friends, family, and colleagues of Brent Witham.  Mr. Witham lost his life protecting the people of Montana and we will remember him for his courage and sacrifice.” – Montana Governor Bullock
Lolo Peak infrared fire map.

“The Missoula County Sheriff and Coroner TJ McDermott is releasing the name of the firefighter who died Wednesday afternoon as Brent M. Witham, 29, of Mentone, California. Brent Witham’s death is the result of a “tree felling” accident that occurred while he was assigned to the Lolo Peak fire.

As a department, our hearts go out to the Witham family, members of the U.S. Forest Service family, and all wildland firefighters across the nation.” – Missoula County Sheriff’s Office on August 3rd, 2017

Lolo Peak Sign and smoke August 1
Credit: Andy Lyon

LOLO PEAK FIRE UPDATE:

“Aerial resources, including retardant, are being used to slow the progression of the Lolo Peak Fire into Dick Creek and the South Fork of Lolo Drainage while completing containment lines to the west and north of the fire. Slowing the progression of the fire allows us to be prepared for fire movement in the future that could threaten structures along the Highway 12 corridor.”
– iniciweb.gov

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