Photo by John McColgan. 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 Missoulianafter 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.