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How a Hawk and Its Serpentine Meal Sparked a Montana Wildfire

Animal arson isn’t actually all that rare.

A swiftly moving wildfire near Black Eagle, Montana, consumed about 40 acres of grass before members of the Black Eagle Volunteer Fire Department managed to extinguish the flames. No one was hurt, but one of the firefighters did happen upon the cause of the blaze: a hawk carrying a large snake, lying under a set of power lines.

The hawk had apparently scooped up the snake for its next meal, then landed on one of the power lines above the grass. When the long snake touched another of the power lines, a circuit was completed and the snake and the bird were electrocuted. The fire was probably started by sparks from the shock, reports Earth Touch News, and the two animals were killed instantly. The fire department plans to preserve them and keep the pair at their station.

“Animal arson” often involves power lines. A hawk carrying a snake started a 2015 wildfire in Southern California after completing a circuit between two lines, and a squirrel on power lines sparked a 2016 grass fire in South Dakota. A raven flew into a transmission tower at a Canadian dam in 2014, causing a power outage for local residents and a 37-acre wildfire. Fire investigators found fish around a transformer in South Dakota in 2012—a bird had probably dropped its meal on the power lines. But power lines aren’t always involved. For example, a pigeon dropped a burning cigarette butt into a rooftop nest and caught a building on fire in London in 2014. And later that year, a house fire in the Yukon Territory was started by a dog chewing on a box of strike-anywhere matches. Maybe Smokey the Bear should start urging his fellow fauna to prevent wildfires, too.