On August 3 in Northern California a Humboldt County sheriff’s deputy was responding on Highway 96 to a report of an overdose when the patrol vehicle crashed, burned, and started a small vegetation fire that was suppressed after blackening half an acre.
It took several days for the surprising cause of the accident to be revealed.
On August 7 Caltrans reported that the deputy’s vehicle was struck by a bear that fell off an embankment. Thankfully the officer escaped the vehicle without serious injury. The bear fled the scene, refusing treatment.
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.
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 andbrown 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.
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.
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.
*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.
*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.
*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