Fallen firefighter Brent Witham is taken home to California

(Above: Several hundred people gathered to honor fallen firefighter Brent Witham at the Missoula Airport as he began his journey home to California. U.S. Forest Service photo.)

(Originally published at 6:10 p.m. MDT August 7, 2017)

Firefighter Brent Witham was escorted back to California Monday. Mr. Witham died August 2 after being struck by a tree while he was working on the Lolo Peak Fire in the Lolo National Forest in Western Montana. He was a member of the Vista Grande Hotshots, based in Idyllwild, California.

Brent Witham
Brent Witham

Monday morning a procession took him from a mortuary in Missoula, Montana to the local airport where he was met by 350 to 400 firefighters and others who stood at attention as an honor guard transferred the casket from a hearse into a waiting red and white U.S. Forest Service twin-prop Sherpa aircraft normally used to deliver smokejumpers to remote fires. As bagpipers played, the rear cargo door was closed and the Sherpa with its special passenger slowly taxied and took off bound for the San Bernardino airport.

(These next four photos of the scene at Missoula were provided by @R5_Fire_News and were taken by U.S. Forest Service photographer Kari Greer. The last five are screenshots from live coverage by the Los Angeles ABC station, Channel 7.)

Brent WithamWhen Mr. Witham’s Sherpa arrived at the San Bernardino airport it taxied to one of the air tanker pits where air tankers park while being reloaded with retardant. As in Missoula, many firefighters, perhaps two hundred or more from our very rough guess while watching the live TV coverage, formed lines to honor their fellow firefighter as he was slowly carried by six members of the honor guard and placed into another hearse.

A group of people in civilian clothes, probably family and friends, stood nearby observing the very formal, practiced movements of the honor guard. One elderly gentleman was supported by two men as he and the family members walked 100 yards to waiting agency vehicles which fell in behind the hearse as another procession began which took Mr. Witham to the Montecito Memorial Park & Mortuary in Colton for interment. Law enforcement motorcycles and sedans joined dozens of firefighting apparatus as they took Mr. Witham on his last journey, this time only five miles.

Brent Witham

ABC7 reports that a public memorial service is planned to honor him on Thursday at the National Orange Show Events Center (Orange Pavilion, Arrowhead entrance) in San Bernardino. Doors open at 9 a.m. and the service begins at 10.

Brent Witham

The images below are from the ABC7 live coverage.

Brent Witham
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Live video of procession for fallen firefighter in Missoula

This was live video from the Missoula Airport of fallen firefighter Brent Witham as he began his journey home. The recording began at 9:30 a.m. MDT on Monday, August 7. Even though the event is over, you can still view the recorded version.

It showed fallen firefighter Brent Witham arriving at the airport and being transferred from a hearse through an honor guard to a U.S. Forest Service Sherpa aircraft, as hundreds of firefighters and others stood by to honor him.

He is expected to arrive in California at about 3 p.m. PDT at the San Bernardino Air Tanker Base. It is likely that some news outlets in the southern California will carry it live. If you are aware of any that do, please give the details in a comment below.

The U.S. Forest Service released the following information about the arrival in California:

The body of Brent Witham will be transported from Montana to the San Bernardino Air Tanker base on Monday, August 7th, arriving via Forest Service aircraft, about 3:00 p.m.  He will receive the honor of a formal escort, the entire trip made up of Forest Service law enforcement and Honor Guard.

The procession route will run from the Tanker Base, west on 3rd ave, south on Tippecanoe past the Forest Service Headquarters, west on Orange Show, and south on Waterman, ending at the Montecito Memorial Park & Mortuary at 3520 E Washington St, Colton, CA 92354.  You are welcome to view the processional anywhere along the route.

Once at the mortuary, there will be a cordon of honor and another honor guard escort from the hearse into the building.

Mr. Witham was killed in an accident involving a falling tree Wednesday August 2 on the Lolo Peak Fire in the Lolo National Forest in Western Montana. He was a member of the Vista Grande Hotshots, based in Idyllwild, California.

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.