A Montana Hotshot firefighter is dead after a tree-felling accident on the Lolo Peak fire Wednesday.
Brent M. Witham of Mentone, California, is the second firefighter to parish in two weeks according to the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.
According to the Missoulian, Witham, 29, was given CPR at the scene then airlifted to a Missoula hospital, but could not be revived.
Witham, from the Vista Grande Hotshot crew based in Idyllwild, California was serving with 374 fellow firefighters in the mountains 10 miles southwest of Lolo.
According to the Missoulian, the 6,542-acre, blaze continues to burn actively, and most of the fire line defense has been arrayed along Lantern Ridge, overlooking the Highway 12 corridor west of Lolo.
Although The U.S. Forest Service holds drills and conducts rigorous training, crews know they’re risking all.
“We call it an incident within an incident,” Mark Struble, Lolo Peak fire’s public information officer, told the Missoulian Wednesday. “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 Missoulian reports Witham’s death is the second firefighter fatality in two weeks in western Montana. Trenton Johnson, 19, of Missoula died July 19 when he was struck by a tree while preparing to tackle a half-acre blaze northeast of Seeley Lake.
Officials tell the Missoulian their prayers are with Witham, his family and all wildland firefighters.
“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,” said Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Brenda Bassett.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock memorialized Witham Thursday while asking the public to keep firefighters in their hearts.
“Lisa and I send our deepest condolences to the friends, family, and colleagues of Brent Witham,” Bullock writes in email to the Missoulian. “Mr. Witham lost his life protecting the people of Montana, and we will remember him for his courage and sacrifice.”
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