Brooks said the victims were "lost too soon" and urged viewers and the audience to "celebrate their lives".
That was until Keith Urban surprisingly won the top prize - entertainer of the year - moments before the three-hour show wrapped Wednesday night. Thank you for supporting daddy and loving me through all of what I do.
"We send our love to you", said co-host Carrie Underwood, also mentioning the "brave firefighters". "Let the music unite us with love in their enduring memory", said Brooks.
Elsewhere at the CMAs, Stapleton cleaned house, winning four awards including male vocalist, song and single of the year.
Underwood worked triple-duty as co-host, performer and nominee at the CMAs, and won female vocalist of the year.
The camera panned back and forth between the couple as the "Somebody Like You" singer continued with his heartwarming thanks:"I have so many people to thank, I wish I had more time to do it right now".
Urban also expressed how shocked he was to win the coveted award during his acceptance speech.
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And to make matter worse for Zuckerberg, Cook had clarified that his company did not consider consumer data a source of income. The Times reported on Wednesday about Facebook's response to Russian-led misinformation efforts ahead of the 2016 election.
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Brad, who seemingly revealed the gender of Underwood's first child on accident at last year's ceremony, didn't make the same mistake this year, but did manage to coax the pregnant, "Cry Pretty" singer into revealing it herself.
"Thank you God. I have been blessed with so much in my life", she said.
On a male-dominated night, Kacey Musgraves, 30, won her first big CMA prize, taking home album of the year for Golden Hour.
On the younger end, Kelsea Ballerini, 25, performed her defiant dance-pop ode to female empowerment, Miss Me More.
After much pressure from Bradley, Underwood revealed she was expecting a baby boy, commenting, "Oh, my gosh, Willie!"