Hawk And Snake Cause A 40-Acre Brush Fire In Montana

  • A forty-acre brush fire erupted in Black Eagle, Montana
  • After all other evidence was ruled out, a hawk carrying a snake was found to be the cause
(Photo: Provided by Kyra Vanisko, Black Eagle (Mont.) Fire Department via Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune)

When a brush fire broke out in Black Eagle, Montana, the local fire department was on the scene to contain it before it could do any real damage. It expanded to about 40-acres before it was fully extinguished, and it was then up acting assistant chief Dave Lee to find the cause.

An Unlikely Arsonist…Or Two

Lee weighed the evidence. Lighting, farm equipment, and arson were quickly ruled out. So, what caused the blaze?

A hungry hawk with dinner in its claws.

“A dead hawk was found burned, and it had contacted the power lines,” Lee said. “The amazing thing is it still had a small snake gripped in its talons.”

While it’s not unusual for birds and other small animals to cause fires, a bird meeting its fiery end while clutching its ready-to-eat dinner is a bit strange.

Firefighter Kyra Vanisko snapped a photo of the charred hawk underneath a power pole. It was unrecognizable, save for its talons still clutching the foot-long bull snake. “It was just awesome. I wasn’t expecting to find a hawk with a snake in its claws still.”

“It was electrocuted, but it wasn’t shot or anything. You could tell where the snake had touched the wire. I think he was setting up on the pole itself and the snake touched the wire, which the pole is grounded and then it went out the bird and it went from there,” department spokesman Dusty Thompson said.

With its body burned beyond recognition, the bird’s species is unknown, but it was about the size of a small cat. There is another theory—the animal’s wingspan may have contacted the power line, which, in turn, generated sparks that started the fire.

The blaze erupted in grassland that was once a landfill.  A few power poles were damaged, but it was contained before it could reach a nearby power company switchyard.

Animals Do The Darndest Things

Power outages caused by animals and birds in Montana are not unusual, said Butch Larcombe, a spokesman for NorthWestern Energy.

During an outage near Helena, Montana about six years ago, a deer fawn was found in a power line. Larcombe believes that an eagle may have snatched the fawn from the ground (yes, they can do that) and dropped it on the power line while in flight.

Still,  the hawk and snake duo leaves him scratching his head.

“I have dealt with outages caused by squirrels, beavers, geese, raptors and even snakes,” he said. “But this is my first experience with a hawk-snake combination.”