San Bernardino County hotshot firefighter killed while battling Montana wildfire

A wildfire burns in July near the historic mining town of Landusky, south of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana. Montana's worst fire season in years is expected to scorch the drought-stricken landscape well into fall.
(Meg Oliphant /The Billings Gazette via AP)

A 29-year-old San Bernardino National Forest firefighter who was a member of an elite hotshot crew was killed this week while battling a wildfire in Montana, authorities said.

Brent Witham, of Mentone, died Wednesday in a “tree-felling” accident while battling the lightning-caused Lolo Peak fire in western Montana, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Witham was struck by a falling snag, or dead tree, the Missoulian newspaper reported.

Witham had been a member of the San Bernardino National Forest’s Vista Grande hotshot crew, based in Idyllwild, since 2015, the Forest Service said in a statement.

He began his firefighting career with the Forest Service in 2011, working with a wildfire hand crew, officials said.

“Brent was a hardworking professional, who was eager to learn and be the best that he could be,” San Bernardino National Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron said in a statement. “He will be missed by all he touched.”

The high-elevation Lolo Peak fire started July 15 and has burned 6,875 acres in remote backcountry, authorities said. About 353 firefighters were battling the blaze as of Friday.

Witham is the second firefighter within the last two weeks to be killed in Montana by a falling snag, according to the Missoulian.

On July 19, Trenton Johnson, 19, who worked for a private firefighting company in Oregon, was killed by a burning snag that fell while he worked a fire near Seeley Lake, about 50 miles northeast of Missoula, the Missoulian reported.

Johnson was a standout high school lacrosse player in Missoula and was attending Montana State University.

He was working on his second fire with the company Grayback Forestry, which was under contract with the U.S. Forest Service, according to the Missoulian.

The last time a wildland firefighter died in Montana was 2001, the newspaper reported.

Twitter: @haileybranson


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