Bitterroot Forest Fire.Deer (elk) by John McColgan

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    Note: I did not take this incredible photo, John McColgan did, during a forest fire in Bitterroot Forest, Montana.

    "The image was captured in the late afternoon of Sunday, August 6, 2000 from a bridge over the East Fork of the Bitterroot River just north of Sula, Montana. The elk sought refuge in the river bottom during what may have been the most extreme day of fire behavior on the Bitterroot in more than 70 years. "I do shoot some photography, but certainly that was a once in a lifetime, stunning opportunity." ... (more)

    See: and more on

    greenhorn777, thecleversheep, ento, and 43 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. fouramjava 63 months ago | reply

      WOW! That is a powerful scene. I hope it didn't last very long.

    2. catherinetodd2 63 months ago | reply

      If i remember right, it lasted a pretty good while. A big fire in Montana history (see the links I added above).

      Yet we now know that forest fires are a very important part of the lifecycle of vegetation and the earth. But why is it necessary for such a violent way of going about things? Who designed the earth in such a way, with death and destruction a necessary prelude to creation and rebirth?

    3. RaffertyEvans "Off Line" [deleted] 62 months ago | reply

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called EXQUISTE CAPTURE ( Post 1 award 4 )SWEEPER ACTIVE !!!, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    4. RaffertyEvans "Off Line" [deleted] 62 months ago | reply

      Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Photos that are top in your Flickr, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    5. catherinetodd2 40 months ago | reply

      More at
      Home --> Photo Gallery --> Natural Phenomena --> Bitterroot Forest Fire
      photo by John McColgan

      Claim: Photograph captures deer fleeing a fire in Bitterroot Forest, Montana.
      Status: True.
      Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2000]

      A Once in a Lifetime Photo of a forest fire in Bitterroot Forest/Montana

      This awesome picture was taken in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana on August 6, 2000 by a fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska by the name of John McColgan with a Digital camera. Since he was working while he took the picture, he cannot sell or profit from it so he should at least be recognized as the photographer of this once in a lifetime shot.

      Origins: The year 2000 brought one of the worst fire seasons in half a century to the U.S. By the month of August over 4 million acres (an area greater in size than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined) had been burned by wildfires, and dozens of blazes raged out of control in eleven western states, with nearly half of the conflagrations occurring in Idaho and Montana.

      On 6 August 2000, as several fires converged in the Bitterroot National Forest near the town of Sula in western Montana, John McColgan, a fire behavior analyst in the employ of the USDA Forest Service, snapped the spectacular photograph shown above with a digital camera. As McColgan described the experience to a writer for the Western Montana newspaper The Missoulian:
      "That's a once-in-a-lifetime look there. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I've been doing this for 20 years and it ranks in the top three days of fire behavior I've seen."

      The day was Aug. 6, the Sunday when several forest fires converged near Sula into a firestorm that overran 100,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes. Temperatures in the flame front were estimated at more than 800 degrees. Nevertheless, McColgan said, the wildlife appeared to be taking the crisis in stride, gathering near the East Fork of the Bitterroot River where it crosses under U.S. Highway 93.

      "They know where to go, where their safe zones are," McColgan said. "A lot of wildlife did get driven down there to the river. There were some bighorn sheep there. A small deer was standing right underneath me, under the bridge."

      McColgan snapped the photo with a Kodak DC280 digital camera. Since he was working as a Forest Service firefighter, the shot is public property and cannot be sold or used for commercial purposes.
      After McColgan downloaded his amazing image to an office computer, a friend found it, e-mailed a copy to another friend, and

      by mid-September 2000 the picture was blazing its way across the Internet. Because many forwarded copies of the image lacked any attribution or explanation, e-mail recipients began to circulate rumors about its origins and authenticity — some claimed that the photo was snapped by a tourist, that it was taken during the extensive Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988, or that it was yet another digital fake.

      (When a series of forest fires hit British Columbia in August 2003, this picture was sent around again with notes indicating that it was a photograph taken at one of those conflagrations. This same picture was also included in a set of images showing the October 2007 California wildfires.)

      As John McColgan said afterwards, "I couldn't have profited from [the photograph], so I guess I'm glad so many people are enjoying it." We're happy to help him at least receive proper credit for his work.


      I wish I could find John McColgan and tell him about the response here on flickr and maybe he could post his original! Anyone know how to contact him? CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com.

    6. catherinetodd2 40 months ago | reply

      Photo by John McColgan, fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska in the year 2000, Bitterroot Forest, Montana. Elk in the river.

    7. catherinetodd2 40 months ago | reply

      What's amazing here is that the elk (yes, actually elk and not deer) knew where to go to be safe and wait out the fire. They were in the river, with plenty of water to drink and greenery to eat along the banks and don't look disturbed at all.

      That's how I want to be, "calm in the midst of the storm." This looks like a spiritual picture to me.

    8. catherinetodd2 40 months ago | reply

      "Some consider this photo taken by a firefighter as the most beautiful photograph of a forest fire ever taken using a digital camera."

      More about the story and the photographer: ‎

    9. catherinetodd2 40 months ago | reply

      This photo of two elk cows surrounded by an awesome conflagration is authentic, snapped on a digital camera by U.S. Forest Service fire behavior analyst John McColgan on August 6, 2000. The location was the east fork of the Bitterroot River near Sula, Montana in the Bitterroot National Forest. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime look there," McColgan told The Missoulian after he was tracked down a month later. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time." Because the photo was taken with a BLM-owned digital camera, it is regarded as public property and McColgan has not been allowed to profit from it.

      Before McColgan was belatedly identified as the photographer, the image circulated with a number of false captions, including the erroneous claim that it was shot during the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires. A more recent version correctly names McColgan but mistakenly claims the photo was taken in 2003.

      Photo credit: John McColgan, BLM, Alaska Fire Service

    10. s.bann [deleted] 36 months ago | reply

      This is real, and this is the original post?

    11. catherinetodd2 36 months ago | reply

      Dear s.bann, yes this is a real photograph and a real post on and report from John McColgan who took the photograph. Use the links to see more.

    12. catherinetodd2 17 months ago | reply

      Chip_n_thePNW said:

      "Lke a Fine-Arts painting. VERY impressive"

      That´s exactly it, and must be why this is such an incredibly popular photograph. One of a kind, really. And the story behind it and the photographer is equally impressive. Who would have guessed that this could be so spur-of-the moment?

      Photographer: John McColgan, fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska. Year 2000.

    13. The Danosaur 8 months ago | reply

      I used this photo in a blog article on wildfires:

      Amazing photo!

    14. catherinetodd2 8 months ago | reply

      Danosaur... glad you liked the photo; be sure to give credit to John McColgan, who took it! Thanks.

    15. Chip_n_thePNW 3 months ago | reply

      I re-read the story about this photo. Actually, THIS time, those facts stood out more to my notice, because my attention (at first) was more on the scene than the facts. And those facts are equally part of appreciating this scene [deeper]. Glad you appreciated my assessment of it - "a fine art painting," painted with a different type brush. Your handling of this photo = VERY-VERY thoughtful and nicely done...... From 'ME.' Best Wishes

    16. catherinetodd2 3 months ago | reply

      Thanks, Chip... I always wonder what it must be like for John McColgan, who took this photo, seeing it all over the internet for years and never with any credit. Misnamed, attributed to so many different places, called deer when it's elk... and the names and places of the fire changed so many times. Thank goodness for snopes, because I searched high and law; far and wide until I finally found out the name of the person who took it. And then to find out that he didn't and can't make a dime for it! But he might have been famous. I'm glad that I found this image and was able to post it here. So many have marked it "favorite" or written stories about it. It's quite an image. I have never seen anything like it, and I'm glad that McColgan is getting a bit of recognition here. I couldn't find an email for him, or I would have sent him this link. Thanks for your kind comments about my "handling of this photo." I wanted to make it very clear that I didn't take it, and give credit to who did... so far so good. Your comments are much appreciated!

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