(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.
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.)
When 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.
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.
The images below are from the ABC7 live coverage.