Local firefighter killed while battling wildfire in Montana

MISSOULA, Mont. (KABC) -- A local U.S. Forest Service firefighter has died while battling a wildfire in western Montana.

Brent Witham of Mentone died on Wednesday while he was working on the Lolo Peak fire, which is burning in the Lolo National Forest southwest of Missoula, Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott said.

The 29-year-old died when a tree that was being cut down fell and struck him.

Witham was a six-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service. He began his career as a member of the Tahquitz Hand Crew in 2011, and he was most recently a member of San Bernardino's Vista Grande Hotshot crew stationed in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Hotshot firefighters are among the most highly trained and experienced ground crews in the wildfire force. The rest of Witham's hotshot crew returned to California on Thursday, U.S. Forest service officials said.

Witham was described by colleagues as a hardworking professional, who was always eager to learn and be the best he could be.

Gov. Jerry Brown released a statement, extending condolences to Witham's family, friends and colleagues.

"It's the work of brave firefighters like Brent that keeps our communities safe and we are deeply grateful for his service," Brown said in the statement released on Thursday.

Plans are set to get underway for Witham's memorial service.

Witham is the second firefighter to die in western 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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