Hawk and snake combination start wildfire in Montana

Firefighters with the Black Eagle Fire Department working on a fire that burned 40 acres in northern Montana didn’t know what started the fire until Kyra Vanisko discovered a dead hawk at the point of origin. Still in the bird’s talons was a snake, also very dead. The carcases were below a poweline, so the working theory is that the hawk, carrying the snake, intended to land on the line but on final approach the snake dangling below contacted one line while the hawk touched another. The completed circuit electrocuted both animals.

Hawk snake start fire
A hawk carrying a snake started a fire in northern Montana last week. Photo by firefighter Kyra Vanisko of the Black Eagle Fire Department. Used with permission.
fire start hawk snake
A hawk carrying a snake started a fire in northern Montana last week. Photo by firefighter Kyra Vanisko of the Black Eagle Fire Department. Used with permission.

It is not the first time a bird has started a fire. Other stories on Wildfire Today about animal arson.

Squirrel causes fire in Rapid City, South Dakota

Another documented case of Animal Arson:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Darren.

Did humans learn how to use fire as a management tool from birds?

It is thought that birds in northern Australia help spread wildfire by carrying burning twigs.

On 16 occasions in the past we have jokingly used the term “animal arson” when a critter played a part in starting a fire. Examples include a mouse chewing through a power cord (and for a while was thought guilty of manslaughter), a dog chewing on strike-anywhere matches, a pigeon and a sparrow carrying lit cigarettes to their nests, a bird dropping a fish onto a power line, and a bird’s wings contacting two power lines.

Black kite in Bangalore, India. Photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa.

There may be more to this than we originally thought. Researchers have documented multiple instances of anecdotal evidence leading to the belief that birds have helped spread wildfires in Australia’s Northern Territory. There are two primary suspects, the black kite, Milvus migrans and brown falcon, Falco berigora, but other birds of interest are the grasshopper buzzard, Butastur rufipennis in central Africa, and the crested caracara, Caracara cheriway in the southern United States.

Black Kites are found on four continents, but not in North or South America. They feed on small live prey, fish, lizards, carrion, large insects, and have been known to take birds, bats, and rodents. They are attracted to vegetation fires and will fly in from miles away to dine on small animals escaping the flames.

Black Kites fire prey

They like it so much that it is believed they keep the fire going by picking up burning twigs in their claws and carrying it some distance to a patch of unburned vegetation. They will wait with their feathered friends until the fire gets going and their table is set, and then grab the scurrying critters. If the fire slows down too much in that area, the story goes, they will find another burning twig to propagate the fire again.

There is also an account of a black kite dropping bread in a river. When fish congregated around the bait, the kite dived in for a meal. It is not a huge stretch from using bread as bait to carrying fire in order to herd small animals.

The evidence to support this behavior is all anecdotal, but it has aroused the interest of scientists Bob Gosford and Mark Bonta who presented some of their preliminary research on this issue at the Raptor Research Foundation meeting in Sacramento, California November 8, 2015. Their presentation included this theory:

It is also possible that humanity’s acquisition and manipulation of fire may be a result of the observation of intentional avian pyrophilic behaviour rather than solely from some relationship with lightning-caused fire.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “animal arson“.

Dog playing with matches starts house fire

A dog playing with matches started a fire in a Yukon Territory home last month. The Yukon Fire Marshal’s Office says a house fire in Mount Lorne was started by a dog chewing on a box of “strike anywhere” matches.

No humans or dogs were injured in the fire, which was put out by the other residents before the fire department arrived.

We’re adding this to our series of articles on Animal Arson.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Doug.

One-liners, June 18, 2014

Assayii Fire June 15
Assayii Fire June 15, 2014. InciWeb photo.

*The Assayii Fire in northwest New Mexico, reported on Friday the 13th, has burned 12,107 acres on the Navajo Nation in the Bowl Canyon area.

*Missoula smokejumpers got checked out on a new Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopters) EC135 helicopter on Tuesday.

*On Tuesday five fires were intentionally set in vegetation in Oakland, California about two miles from where the Tunnel Fire began, which in 1991 killed 25 people (23 civilians, 1 police officer, and 1 firefighter), injured 150, and destroyed 2,449 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units.

*An off duty firefighter employed by the city of Arcadia, California is missing in the Los Padres National Forest in southern California.

*California will give $10 million of the $48 million of the “fire fees” they have collected to counties and organizations who intend to use the funds for fire prevention and mitigation projects.

*Evaluations of how agencies in San Diego County handled the rash of wildfires in mid-May determined that communications was major issue; that and the need for a third helicopter, but the $5 million request for the helicopter was not approved.

*Three cities in the Austin, Texas area plan to install a network of wildfire detection cameras to add to the one purchased last year by West Lake Hills.

*Squirrels may be to blame for some patchy reproduction of lodgepole pines following the 1988 wildfires in Yellowstone National Park.

*An unfortunate raven started a wildfire 25 kilometers northeast of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada when it contacted electrical wires; we will add this to our Animal Arson series, although it may have been a case of suicide arson.

*Dan Glickman and Harris Sherman, two former very high-ranking appointees in the Department of Agriculture, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times supporting the bill that would allow the Forest Service to draw money from federal disaster funds when firefighting costs reach 70 percent of the 10-year average.
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Doug

Wildfire briefing, March 6, 2014

Minnesota fire chief pleads guilty to arson

The chief of the St. Louis County volunteer fire department in Minnesota resigned after investigators charged him with arson last December. On Friday, Ryan Scharber, 30, pleaded guilty to setting a fire on U.S. Forest Service land and to one count of attempted arson. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail:

…According to documents filed in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dunne is requesting that Scharber should be given the maximum five-year sentence, reports the Star Tribune. In the memorandum, Dunne disputed Scharber’s contention that he had set the fires ‘to get out of the house for a few hours to get relief from his newborn child’s acid reflux.’ The prosecutor noted that Scharber hadn’t offered that excuse during the five-hour interview with investigators in which he eventually confessed on December 19, 2012. ‘The psychiatrist at the Range Mental Health Center diagnosed the defendant with pyromania,’ Dunne wrote. ‘The real reason behind the defendant’s criminal conduct in this case was that diagnosis.’

New government report describes possible ‘cascading system failures’ caused by climate change

About 240 authors and a 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee”) have developed a draft climate report. The lengthy document warns that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause “cascading system failures” unless there are changes made to minimize those effects. One of the dozens of topics covered in the report was “Forestry”. You can read that section of the report HERE. Below is a brief summary of that section.

Climate change is increasing the vulnerability of forests to ecosystem change and tree mortality through fire, insect infestations, drought, and disease outbreaks. Western U.S. forests are particularly vulnerable to increased wildfire and insect outbreaks; eastern forests have smaller disturbances but could be more sensitive to periodic drought.

Pigeon sets fire to a building in London

A pigeon is being blamed for starting a fire on the roof of a flat in London. Firefighters believe the bird dropped a lit cigarette into its nest on the roof of the building, starting a fire that forced the nine residents to evacuate the structure. Four fire engines and 21 firefighters were able to save the flat, but the roof was damaged. No one had been on the roof in a long time and there was no electrical equipment in the area, but neighbors told firefighters they had often seen birds flying in and out of a hole in the roof.

Other cases of animal arson

This is not the first time we have run a story on a bird setting fire to a building. It also happened in 2009, again in the United Kingdom, when a sparrow was accused of picking up a lit cigarette and, like the pigeon, depositing it among the dry twigs and grass in its nest. We have a whole series of articles tagged “animal arson”.

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Preston