LOLO – This year we’ve been lucky that we haven’t had any major fire starts yet.
But two years ago, Montana was in the midst of one of the worst fire seasons the state has ever seen.
Two firefighting heroes would lose their lives in Western Montana that summer, both struck by falling trees while fighting wildfires.
One of those heroes was a veteran hotshot from California who battled the Lolo Peak Fire.
Firefighter killed battling 2017 Lolo Peak fire memorialized
Two homes were destroyed and more than 3,000 residents near Lolo and Florence had to flee the flames.
Brent Witham was immortalized on Thursday by the people who he helped save during a memorial dedication ceremony.
A stretch of US Highway 12 in Lolo will now serve as a reminder of Witham, who died while fighting the Lolo Peak Fire in 2017.
During a ceremony at the Lolo Creek Steakhouse, firefighters and other emergency responders stood with the family as legislators declared the new name of the highway “The Brent Witham Memorial Highway.”
Senator Diane Sands: “This is a family that knows the deepest meaning of service to community and country. Thank you for being here and we are profoundly sad for your loss,” Montana State Senator Diane Sands (D-Missoula) said.
Many of the people who spoke on Thursday morning were a part of the legal process to make this happen.
“Doing this wasn’t difficult at all. I introduced a bill, it had full support of the legislature — great help from the Department of Transportation in picking the site,” sands said. “It’s been a true community effort.”
Donna and Dave Giordano, Brents mother and stepfather, wiped tears from their eyes as the community continued their thanks. The pair described the moment as difficult but added it was nice to see so many people honoring their son.
“Brent was larger than life. He was 6’3” he had a smile as big as the state of Montana,” said stepfather, Dave Giordano.
“He was a leader, a hero, a friend,” his mother Donna added.
Brent’s cousins and father also attended the ceremony and the family said they take comfort in knowing he will always be remembered by the people he once helped to save.
Lolo Community Council Vice Chair Jennifer Schultz called the dedication ceremony bittersweet.
On behalf of the residents of Lolo, she said every time they drive down Highway 12 they will remember Brent and his heroic action.
Reporting by Lauren Heiser for MTN News