At nearly 67,000 acres, the Poverty Flats Fire in Eastern Montana is the state’s largest wildfire of the year so far. Amazingly, the sizable blaze hasn’t claimed any structures yet—but it’s certainly displacing wildlife.
The most jarring example is a July 30 video taken by Chris Sharpe, a member of the Big Horn County Rural Fire Department. Sharpe was near Hardin, Montana, monitoring a grader line when three giant bull elk appeared from the flames. Firemen ushered the elk through an unburned 4-foot alley against the fence. The bulls cooperated, running to safety where the fire already burned out.
“When you see them disappear into the darkness, they’re headed towards pasture that had finished burning,” Sharpe said in an interview with MeatEater. “I know they made it out alive.”
Online commenters have wondered why firemen didn’t cut the fence. According to Sharpe, they considered it, but determined it would be quicker to push the elk along the fence rather than opening it and coaxing the bulls through. Their instincts were right—the elk were trapped for only a few minutes.
Despite what some online sources are saying, these were wild bulls. The high fence seen in the video is from a retired, inactive game farm. The property used to raise domestic elk for their antlers and meat, but has since been converted to a cattle ranch. Although part of the land has a high fence, other borders have open gates and low fences that allow for wildlife passage. Montana effectively banned high-fence game farms in 2000 with Initiative 143.
The Poverty Flats Fire is now 60% contained and has shown little growth over the last few days. Officials are optimistic the worst is behind them, and mop-up crews are on the way to put out hot spots and reinforce fire lines.
“That was definitely a fire for the books,” Sharpe said. “But near the end, the elk were the diamond in the rough, if you will.”