Behind the camera: John McColgan
Where: East Fork of the Bitterroot River on the Sula Complex, Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, United States
Photo Summary: An elk pauses to look at the Bitterroot Forest Fire
Picture Taken: August 6, 2000
This image is in the public domain because it was taken by a federal employee, John McColgan
NASA called it “Fire on Earth“, TIME called it “Inferno” while Wikipedia has given it the name, “Elk bath“. In the summer of 2000, there were 86 major wildfires in western America. One of these was out of control in Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest. Fire behavior specialist John McColgan was tracking the Bitterroot Forest Fire that, on August 6, 2000, was showing no signs of slowing down. While analyzing the fire he was able to take this photo, on a bridge over the river, with a Kodak DC280 digital camera.
Taking the picture
Reporter Rob Chaney of the Missoulian was able to track down McColgan while he was in Fairbanks, Alaska where he lives with his family. When asked about the photo John McColgan remembers:
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 animals] know where to go, where their safe zones are, 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.”
One of his co-workers emailed the photo to a friend and from there it spread and quickly went viral.
John McColgan took the photo while he was performing his firefighting duties as a representative of the federal government. As such the image is in the public domain and copyright free.