Family, friends and firefighting colleagues on Thursday honored a 29-year-old hotshot crew member from Southern California who was killed fighting a Montana wildfire.
Forest Service Hotshot Brent Witham of Mentone died on Aug. 2 when he was struck by a falling tree while fighting the Lolo Peak fire in the Lolo National Forest. Witham's remains were escorted back to California Monday by law enforcement and honor guard, according to the Forest Service.
Firefighters and other mourners packed the National Orange Show Thursday in San Bernardino for a public memorial service. He was remembered as a courageous and compassionate firefighter who was willing to do whatever it took to help others.
"You were a second family to him," his younger sister, Jannell Giordano. told firefighters at the service.
She called him a "Teddy bear" of a brother whose imagination ran wild as a child.
"He used to build these big forts upstairs because he always saw more than just the couch and sheets in front of him," Giordano said. "He was so gifted and creative. I admired him and looked up to him."
Witham was part of the Vista Grand Hotshots, based in the San Bernardino National Forest. Hotshot crews are firefighters specially trained in wildfire supression. They are often dispatched to remote locations and relied on to help contain some of the nation's worst fires, performing grueling work in dangerous conditions.
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Their job might involve being dropped into a burn area to construct fire lines, digging down deep into earth where the fire is left with nothing to burn.
"This experience is not something that can be easily explained to just anybody," said Forest Service Division Chief Freddie Espinoza. "Brent Witham knew this. There was something very special about him that made him stand out."
Witham was the second firefighter death in Montana in less than two weeks. Trenton Johnson of Missoula died on July 19 when a dead tree fell and hit him near Seeley Lake. He was 19.