Moonfish Fire burns thousands of acres west of Miami

Map Moonfish Fire Big Cypress National Preserve
Map showing the approximate location of the Moonfish Fire in Big Cypress National Preserve at 2:42 p.m. EDT May 8, 2020.

A wildfire that started May 7 is spreading rapidly in Big Cypress National Preserve 37 miles west of Miami, Florida. The fire is south of Tamiami Trail near the shared boundary with Everglades National Park.

The Moonfish Fire is actively burning in sawgrass prairie and cypress strands. Full suppression actions are taking place given the current drought and wind conditions. Wildfire Today’s very unofficial estimate of the size is approximately 6,000 acres.

An MD-87 air tanker, Tanker 101, delivered a total of four loads of retardant on Thursday and Friday, flying out of the Lake City Tanker Base, a 650-mile round trip. On April 21 that aircraft lost an engine after dropping retardant on the Holcombe Road Fire in Crockett County Texas. The crew declared an emergency and landed safely on one engine after diverting to Midland, Texas (MAF) as airport crash-rescue trucks stood by.

Personnel from Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park are working the Moonfish Fire along with interagency assistance from Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Miami-Dade Fire to protect structures in the area. Two helicopters and three engines were assigned to the fire on Thursday.

South Florida is currently experiencing hot, dry conditions typical of this time of year.

radar Map Moonfish Fire Big Cypress National Preserve
Radar detects smoke from the Moonfish Fire in Big Cypress National Preserve, 8 p.m. EDT May 8, 2020.

“You’ll get to carry fire”

Looking at the experience of prescribed fire

Prescribed fire Big Cypress National Preserve
Prescribed fire at Big Cypress National Preserve video. Screenshot from NPS video below.

I assumed this third film in a series about prescribed fire at Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida would be strictly that, prescribed fire. But it took an unexpected turn highlighting the unheralded and under-appreciated federal employees — firefighters — without whom there would be no fire management program in the National Park Service and several other agencies.

In the film there is no off screen narrator that drives that point, but instead there are interviews with two firefighters who obviously cherish the work they do. As a former firefighter, (is anyone ever a FORMER firefighter?) I could relate to the sentiment. They didn’t mention the money they make, which is a fraction of what they could make doing more, uh, normal work. But they conveyed the satisfaction in what they are accomplishing, both personally and for the natural resources.

“We’re here to manage the land and we have that responsibility as a human to do that.”
Megan Hurrell, Firefighter and Fire Effects Monitor at Big Cypress National Preserve

I don’t know if it was one of the producers’ objectives, but the film could serve as an effective recruitment tool.

“I went to my first fire and I knew right then. It’s kinda like when people say you meet the love of  your life it was kind of like that. It was — wow! That was good work, that was hard work. I’m filthy. I feel good about myself, I’m doing something that’s right. I’m comfortable with that and I’m in awe with it.”
Jay Thatcher, Burn Boss at Big Cypress National Preserve

When I was a Fire Management Officer and Burn Boss, occasionally a high-ranking person in the agency would attend a prescribed fire that was in progress. If they were near the action they wore personal protective equipment and I often put a drip torch in their hands and let them participate in ignition, under close supervision, of course. Sometimes it was difficult to get the drip torch back. They had a different perception of prescribed fire after that experience.

Recently a mom was encouraging her eight-year old son to serve in their church as an acolyte, with part of the duties being lighting candles at the alter. She told him, “You’ll get to carry fire,” then she looked at me and smiled.

For Megan and Jay in South Florida it’s in their job description. Sometimes wildland firefighters hear, “You’ll get paid in sunsets.” Well, that, and, you’ll get to carry fire.

Burn Boss: A History of Fire and People in Big Cypress National Preserve

Above: screenshot from the video below.

Big Cypress has released their second in a series of three films about prescribed fire in the south Florida Park, titled, Burn Boss: A History of Fire and People in Big Cypress.

Here is their description:

The job of the Burn Boss is difficult. Perhaps the toughest in all of professional conservation. To be the Boss of Fire, you must be willing to take responsibility for one of nature’s most powerful forces: Fire.

Jennifer Brown and Into Nature Films worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Big Cypress National Preserve to tell the history of the National Park Service’s most accomplished fire program. With beautiful cinematography, fascinating interviews, and tantalizing story, this film highlights the colorful people and places in the wild heart of south Florida, narrated and written by Rick Anderson, a descendent of Florida pioneers. Rick has dedicated his life to the use of fire for the land.

Last month the first film in the series was released, “Fire Swamp”, that  explains the relationship between fire and the swamp.

New film reveals the untold story of fire in a swamp

film fire Big Cypress National Preserve
A screenshot from “Fire Swamp”

Much of Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida is swampland. And like most areas with native vegetation it evolved with fire as a major component of the ecosystem.

Today the Preserve released a new film, “Fire Swamp,” that explains the relationship. Here is how they describe it:

‘Fire Swamp’ reveals the untold story of how fire burns in a swamp. Get a front row seat to fire flowing through our interwoven ecosystem of high and dry pinelands to cypress swamps with two National Park Service professionals who manage this dynamic ecosystem. Down here in the Big Cypress, the borders between fire, water, people, limestone, plants, and animals creates an exquisite mosaic of beauty.

Jen Brown, and recently with Rick Anderson, has been making films about fire in South Florida since at least 2012. Their company, IntoNatureFilms, has helped the land management agencies in the area interpret for the general public the value of public lands and inform them about how they are managed. More agencies around the country could learn from this approach.

Documentary film about the Mud Lake Complex of fires in Florida

This 10 minute video is a documentary about the Mud Lake complex of fires that burned 35,000 acres in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida in May of this year. The film was commissioned by the Fire and Aviation section of Big Cypress. The producer, director, and editor was Jennifer Brown of Into Nature Films, who has a history of creating excellent films about wildland fire management in south Florida.

Below is the description provided by the National Park Service:


“Big Cypress National Preserve and the Southeast Region of the National Park Service are pleased to announce the release of the new short film, Mud Lake Mosaic. The documentary covers the management of the Mud Lake Complex, a series of wildfires caused by lightning strikes at Big Cypress in late spring 2015.

The Mud Lake Complex wildfires burned over 35,000 acres of Big Cypress National Preserve. Although naturally-ignited wildfires have helped shape the fire-adapted and fire-dependent Big Cypress landscape for thousands of years, fire managers cannot allow fires to freely roam the preserve without some degree of management. In the case of the Mud Lake Complex, major transportation corridors, private property and public safety all had to be protected.

Big Cypress fully embraces the scientific role of fire in the preserve’s cycle of life – from the plants, to the trees, to the wildlife. The preserve’s goal in their response to wildfire is to manage fire so it can provide natural benefit to the area and its inhabitants without threatening human safety.

The initial fire, the Ellison fire, began on May 8. Fire managers established boundaries to contain the fire, but continued lightning strikes over the next 48 hours ignited numerous other fires throughout the preserve.

Big Cypress requested help from the brightest minds in the firefighting and natural resources communities. Help came in from all over the country in the form of collaboration with other local, state and federal agencies and multiple interagency incident management teams.

The Mud Lake Complex lasted for over a month but resulted in a successfully executed strategy that helped to maintain and restore a resilient landscape. The film, Mud Lake Mosaic captures all the nuances of these challenging fires.”

Florida: Mud Lake Complex of Fires

(UPDATED at 2:03 EDT, May 17, 2015)

Mud Lake Fire
Mud Lake Fire May 16, 2015 Photo by Jason Longfellow, Florida Forest Service.

No current information is available on the Mud Lake Fire, since Inciweb is broken.

Mud Lake Fire
Mud Lake Fire May 16, 2015 Photo by Jason Longfellow, Florida Forest Service.


(UPDATED at 12:12 p.m. EDT, May 15, 2015)

Mud Lake Complex of Fires
Mud Lake Fire Complex. Photo by Jason Longfellow, Florida Forest Service.

The Mud Lake Complex of six fires in Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida grew by more than 3,000 acres on Thursday and has now been mapped at 7,689 acres.

Currently the tactics include monitoring, as well as protection of structures, red-cockaded woodpecker trees, and panther habitat. Strategic firing operations will be employed when opportunities exist.

Firefighters are saying it will continue to burn until seasonal rains raise the water table.

Map of Mud Lake Fire Complex
Map of Mud Lake Fire Complex, at 3:11 a.m. EDT May 15. The red and yellow squares represent heat detected by a satellite.


(Originally published at 11:09 a.m. EDT, May 14, 2015)

Mud Lake Complex wildfire
One of the fires in the Mud Lake Complex in Big Cypress National Preserve. NPS photo.

Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida has six fires managed as the Mud Lake Complex, that together have burned 4,049 acres thirty miles east of Naples. The fires were started by lightning between May 8 and May 12 both north and south of Interstate 75 (Alligator Alley). Their remote location makes access for ground crews difficult, so firefighters have been primarily fighting the fires by dropping water from aircraft.

“Although some areas of the fire received spotty showers [Tuesday], the water table has dropped to an extremely low level in Big Cypress Preserve”, said Bob Sobczak, Big Cypress Hydrologist. “Therefore, the entire ecosystem is relatively dry and susceptible to fire until the water table rises” .

Southeast winds continue to push fire toward Interstate 75, while thunderstorms have also been affecting the fire behavior.

Suppression efforts on the ground will be limited until accessibility allows safe access for firefighters.

As of Tuesday night, resources working the fires included two hand crews, four swamp buggies, three engines, six helicopters, one single engine air tanker, and an air attack.

On Thursday morning Wallace’s Type 3 Incident Management Team transitioned to Dueitt’s Southern Area Red Type 1 Team.

Map of Mud Lake Complex May 13, 2015
Map of Mud Lake Complex May 13, 2015. NPS.