Updated: Firefighter dies in tree felling accident in Lolo National Forest in Montana

(Updated at 9:47 a.m. MDT August 4, 2017)

Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott announced that a wildland firefighter was killed Wednesday August 2 on the Lolo Peak Fire in the Lolo National Forest in Western Montana. The Sheriff said Brent M. Witham, 29, of Mentone, California, died in a “tree felling” accident. Dispatchers said the man was given CPR after being struck by a falling tree, but rescuers were unable to save his life.

Brent Witham
Brent Witham, screenshot from the 2016 Vista Grande IHC Crew Video.

He was a member of the Vista Grande Hotshots, based in Idyllwild, California according to Lolo Peak fire information officer Mark Struble.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Witham’s friends, family, and coworkers.

Map of the perimeter Lolo Peak Fire
Map of the perimeter of the Lolo Peak Fire, at 2 a.m. MDT August 3, 2017.

Two weeks ago another firefighter was killed by a falling tree on the Lolo National Forest. Trenton Johnson 19, died June 19 while helping to suppress the Florence Fire, a small fire near Florence Lake northeast of Seeley Lake.

Between 1990 and 2014 18 firefighters were killed on wildland fires by hazardous trees, which was 4 percent of the 440 firefighter deaths in the stats for that period kept by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Started July 15 by lightning, the Lolo Peak Fire has burned 6,542 acres 8 miles southwest of Lolo, Montana south of US Highway 12.

This article was updated August 4 to include the name and photo of the firefighter after it was released by the Sheriff.

Services for Trenton Johnson, July 22

A public memorial service to celebrate the life of Trenton M. Johnson will be held in Missoula, Montana Saturday July 22:

3 p.m until 5 p.m.
Fort Missoula Regional Park Bella Vista Pavilion
3501 South Avenue West
Missoula, MT 5980

(This is a change. The gathering at the church earlier in the afternoon is for family and close friends.)

Mr. Johnson was killed July 19 while working on a wildfire in western Montana. He was struck by a falling tree while helping to suppress the Florence Fire, a small fire near Florence Lake on the Lolo National Forest northeast of Seeley Lake.

Below is the link for donations to benefit both the Wildland Firefighter Foundation and the Trenton Johnson Lacrosse Scholarship.


More information is on a Facebook page established in his honor.

Firefighter killed in Montana by falling tree

(UPDATED at 1:38 MDT July 20, 2017)

Trenton Johnson
Trenton Johnson

A firefighter working for a private company was killed July 19 while working on a wildfire in western Montana. Trenton Johnson 19, was struck by a falling tree while helping to suppress the Florence Fire, a small fire near Florence Lake on the Lolo National Forest northeast of Seeley Lake.

Mr. Johnson, a resident of Missoula, Montana was a member of a Grayback Forestry Inc. 20-person hand crew under contract to the U.S. Forest Service.

Kelli Matthews, a spokesperson for Grayback, said as the crew was getting lined out to begin work on a small fire the top broke out of a burning tree and struck Mr. Johnson. He was taken to the nearest heliport about half mile from the fire where he was airlifted to Saint Patrick Hospital. He was later declared deceased.

Mr. Johnson was a sophomore at Montana State University in Bozeman.

Lolo National Forest Supervisor Tim Garcia issued a statement Thursday saying in part:

This is a heart-wrenching loss of life and Trenton leaves behind many friends and family members who are feeling this profound loss right now. This loss is rippling across the Lolo National Forest this morning and is most keenly felt on the Seeley Lake Ranger District, where Trenton’s sister works as a Forest Service employee.

Between 1990 and 2014 18 firefighters were killed on wildland fires by hazardous trees, which was 4 percent of the 440 firefighter deaths in the stats for that period kept by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Johnson’s family, friends, and coworkers.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris and Paula.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Trailer released for the movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots

The film is due to open October 20.

The Director of the film about the Granite Mountain Hotshots just recently completed the final edits and has released the official trailer (above).

Supposedly it tells the story of the 19 firefighters that were entrapped and killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona June 30, 2013. One crewmember who was not with the others at the time of the burnover and survived, Brendan McDonough, is listed in the credits as a Creative Consultant.

The images shown here are from the website and the trailer.

scene film Only the Brave

The name of the film has changed, from No Exit, to Granite Mountain, and finally to Only The Brave: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The release date has been pushed from September to October 20.

A number of books and articles have been written about the tragedy, but the producers say the film is based on an article published in GQ Magazine titled No Exit, by Sean Flynn.

scene film Only the Brave

GQ published an article today featuring an interview with the Director, Joseph Kosinski. Here’s an excerpt in which he talks about casting:

..The two roles I cast first were Eric Marsh and Brendan McDonough. Josh Brolin was always at the top of my list. I flew out to Asheville, North Carolina, where he was filming another movie, and sat down with him on a Saturday afternoon. I talked him through the vision I had for this film, and the importance of this story, and he got it instantly. He had actually worked as a volunteer firefighter at one point in his life, and he had lived in Prescott, Arizona, at one point. He felt an instant connection to the material and the story; that got him interested.

Before production began, the director hired two former members of Granite Mountain who put the 20 actors playing the parts of firefighters through a two-week “Hotshot camp”.

Here’s another excerpt from the GQ article about the reaction to the film from the Granite Mountain family members.

I just finished the film two weeks ago, so we’re just starting to show it to the family members now. The reaction so far has been everything I would have hoped and more—which, to me, is almost the most important thing. I believe so wholeheartedly in [the Granite Mountain Hotshots’] story being a heroic one, and one that needs to be told. Of all the opinions on a film, [the family members’ reaction] is one that truly matters to me on the deepest level. And so far, every reaction I’ve gotten from the family members is that we did our job.

scene film Only the Brave

cast film Only the Brave


The film’s website has more information.

California firefighter dies after suffering chain saw injury

Frank Anaya
Frank Anaya

A California firefighter died July 11 in a hospital from injuries he suffered July 5 while fighting a wildfire near Lakeside in Southern California.

The inmate firefighter with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation based at the La Cima Conservation Camp was throwing cut brush during line construction operations when he lost his balance and fell into a running chainsaw. He suffered a severe cut to his upper right leg behind his chaps.

The 22-year old firefighter underwent multiple surgeries, but succumbed to his injuries July 11, 2017, according to the CDCR.

Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Anaya’s friends, family, and coworkers.

Other California inmate firefighter fatalities that we are aware of in the last six years:

  • January 4, 2012. Crisanto Leo Lionell. Heart attack near the conclusion of a 20-minute, .66 mile exercise hike.
  • August 19, 2012. Jimmy Randolph. Anoxic encephalopathy combined with complications of heat stroke while assigned to the Buck Fire.
  • February 25, 2016. Shawna Lynn Jones. Struck by rolling boulder while working on the Mulholland Fire  .
  • May 24, 2017. Matthew Beck. Struck by falling tree while doing project work with his crew.

Edited July 14, 2017 to reflect new information in the Green Sheet. The victim was not running the chainsaw, but was swamping for it (throwing the cut brush).

US Forest Service firefighter dies during physical training

On July 8 a firefighter on the Six Rivers National Forest died during physical training activities, according to media articles and the Wildland Firefighter Foundation which reported that the Forest issued this press release.


“Dear Six Rivers Family and Friends,

It saddens me to announce the untimely death of a William Jaros. William, Bill a firefighter with the forest service for over twelve years was with engine crew 312 assigned to the Gasquet/NRA Ranger District.

[Saturday June 8], Bill was on a conditioning hike with several crew members and became ill, then collapsed. Immediate life-saving efforts were initiated, however Bill was not able to be revived.

William Jaros
William Jaros. Six Rivers NF photo.
USFS LEI helped us inform Bill’s next of kin in a Georgia early today and so I’m sending this out immediately after the family is notified.

A Critical Incident Stress Management team was been requested and are in route to the Gasquet/NRA district to support all that would like to talk about this sudden and tragic loss of life.

In accordance with agency protocols, a serious incident team will be arriving on the Gasquet/NRA district to gather all information concerning the loss of our fallen Six Rivers Family member. I will personally be on the Gasquet/NRA Ranger district to assist in all aspects related to Bills passing.

As we get more information surrounding Bill’s sudden and untimely passing, I will provide you this information in a timely manner. It is my intention to have an all Forest Members VTC meeting on Monday to provide you with the latest information as it becomes available.

My heartfelt condolences goes out to all that have served with Bill. This is a difficult time for the forest, and together we will make it through.
My heart and prayers goes out to the family, friends and colleagues of Bill—it is a loss for us all.

Michael Green
Acting Forest Supervisor”


Our sincere condolences go out to Mr. Jaros’s family, friends, and coworkers.