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.”

Wildland fire management in the Everglades

everglades sign

Everglades National Park, at the southern tip of Florida, has been using prescribed fire since 1958 to reintroduce and maintain fire as a part of an ecosystem that has been altered by humans. They have been doing it so long that they apparently feel comfortable having park visitors bicycle or take a tram along a road that is used as a fireline on an active prescribed fire.

Northwest River of Grass prescribed fire
A tram full of park visitors cruises past the Northwest River of Grass prescribed fire in December, 2014. Screen shot from the video below.

In 2014 Everglades prescribed burned about five times as many acres as were blackened in wildfires — 23,162 compared to 4,641 acres. Only about four percent of the acres burned in unplanned fires last year were on fires that were completely suppressed. The rest were managed, or not entirely put out and allowed to accomplish resource management objectives.

Everglades prescribed fire
Fire Information Officer Katherine Corrigan standing in a an area that burned in a prescribed fire nine months previously, in April, 2014. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Like other units in the National Park System, Everglades is experiencing a “workforce realignment”. That’s National Park Service-speak for a major budget reduction. They are still figuring out the details, but it appears that the fire management staff will  be “realigned” from about 35 to around 25 employees. Right now they have two staffed engines, fuels personnel, a fire ecologist, a helitack crew, and two fire effects monitors.  
Jack Weer
Jack Weer, Assistant Fire Management Officer, Everglades National Park. Photo by Bill Gabbert.
Jack Weer, the assistant Fire Management Officer, said most of their wildfires occur in the months of January through May, but said they can have fires any month of the year. 
The park’s two engines, a Type 3 and a Type 6, hold 500 and 313 gallons, respectively. The also have two all terrain vehicles and four utility terrain vehicles. The Type 6 engine is on a Ford 550 chassis.
Everglades fire engines Chris Corrigan
Engine Captain Chris Corrigan and two of Everglade’s engines. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The park also has a very active aviation program, using helicopters extensively, occasionally several in one day. For decades they have used an exclusive use contracted helicopter plus call when needed aircraft, but in April, 2014 acquired their own ship, a Bell Long Ranger. For now they are using pilots under contract, but are considering, AFMO Weer said, hiring their own pilot. We have more information at regarding the helicopter program.

In 2012 we told you about an excellent film that the park commissioned, titled The River of Fire. It was produced, directed, and edited by Jennifer Brown who at the time was an NPS Interpretation Division employee whose term appointment was about to end. Ms. Brown, now with Into Nature Films, has produced another great film about a 28,000-acre prescribed fire the park conducted in December, 2014. Check it out below:

Everglades National Park’s Boy Scout prescribed fire

Everglades National Park has produced another excellent video about their prescribed fire program. You may have seen one of their others, River of Grass, by then National Park Service employee Jennifer Brown, who now has her own video production company, Into Nature Films. Ms. Brown made this video as well, working with Fire Management Officer/Executive Producer Rick Anderson.

Boy Scout Camp Prescribed Fire from Into Nature Films on Vimeo.

Here is the description of this video:

“National Park Service managers conduct a prescribed fire in cooperation with Boy Scouts of America. Camp Everglades is in the Pine Rocklands of Everglades National Park. This active Boy Scout Camp is in a fire dependent pine forest. Plants and animals that live in this rare and imperiled forest have adapted to frequent fires that are ignited by the abundant lightning that visits the land during summer storms. Humans may have used fire in this area to stimulate the growth of fresh green shoots in this otherwise nutrient poor forest. Coontie, a primitive plant who’s roots were processed to make a starch-rich bread by Native peoples and Florida pioneers, responds well to frequent fire. Everglades fire managers work with the Boy Scouts to reduce accumulations of brush and other flammable vegetation to reduce the threat of severe unplanned wildfires.”


Thanks go out to Tristan

Video about wildfire and the endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow

Deer Hammock Wildfire from Into Nature Films on Vimeo.

This five-minute film features a lightning-ignited wildfire and the endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow in Everglades National Park. These last, remaining sparrow populations increase the complexity of fire management in the Everglades.

The video was produced by Jennifer Brown of Into Nature Films. If her name sounds familiar it may be because we embedded one of her other films that she produced for Everglades NP when she was working there under a short-term appointment. That video, River of Fire, is excellent. It’s a shame that the National Park Service could not figure out a way to retain an employee with such unique and valuable skills. But she is still available as a contractor.

Everglades National Park’s excellent film about prescribed fire

Above: Prescribed Fire Burn Boss, Jon Wallace

The National Park Service and Everglades National Park have produced a wonderful film about prescribed fire in what is frequently called the “river of grass”, but this is titled “River of Fire”. (Thankfully they stayed away from the over-used terms “burning issue” and “trial by fire”.) The footage was shot during a 31,000-acre prescribed fire November 29th and 30th, 2011

While we appreciate the video projects about fire management that are produced by local land management units using not much more than an inexpensive videocam, this film takes it to the next level … or more. The technical aspects, the production values, and the editing make this project stand out among all others and in my opinion makes it suitable for network television.

When you watch it, I suggest you expand it to full screen and increase the quality to 720p or 1080p.

At the 5:00 minute mark of the 13-minute film I saw something completely unexpected — the air boat drives through flames. Watch for the ash that accumulates on the camera lens.

Congratulations to the NPS, and producer/director/editor Jennifer Brown, who has a field biology background as well as a Master of Fine Arts degree from the film program at Montana State University. In addition, Burn Boss Jon Wallace from the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge did a great job providing excellent on-camera narration.

I talked with Rick Anderson, the Fire Management Officer of Everglades National Park, who told me that Ms. Brown is a GS-9 employee working for the Environmental Education section of the Interpretation Division under a term appointment which will end soon. She has been working for the NPS for about three years, has a Red Card, her own high-definition video equipment, and has produced a number of films for the park. If you disregard her salary, the cost of making the film was very, very low. The Southeast Region of the NPS recently paid a contractor about $25,000 to make a similar film.

Mr. Anderson said they don’t use an air boat on every prescribed fire because some projects are in wilderness areas which prohibit mechanized equipment, or the water levels may not be high enough. He said a skilled air boat operator can perform some interesting maneuvers, such as spinning donuts to mash down the grass or cattails in order to create a safety zone. An operator can also make a sharp turn to create a wake, and then turn the air boat so that the fan blows air across the wave picking up water in the form of a spray or fog knocking down the fire on the other side — a unique form of fire suppression.

Here is a description of the film provided by the National Park Service:


River of Fire is now complete and posted to YouTube. We wanted to depict both the complexity and the beauty of fire in the Everglades Ecosystem. For the narration we used the two burn bosses on this Type 1 burn. Gary Carnall from the Everglades Fire Management was the trainee and Jon Wallace from Arthur R Marshall Loxahatchee NWR was the trainer. This was intentional. These are among the best in south Florida and their collaboration is an example of Interagency cooperation here. They also demonstrate the vast amount of knowledge that fire managers must possess to gain trust in this highly complicated ecosystem. Many themes in which responsible burn bosses must possess a high level of fluency are emphasized, fire ecology, wildlife, fire behavior, exotics, water quality and concern for the community. Jon Wallace’s command of the subject matter serves as an excellent example of a burn boss representing the craft of fire management.

The quality of this short film is a testament to skilled fire managers working with a expert video producer. In this case our video producer, Jennifer Brown who has a field biology background as well as a MFA from the film program at Montana State University. She also has completed 130/190 and the arduous WCT. Her background and talent was instrumental in creating this compelling short film. All the firefighters with helmet cams in the world could not give us a production of this quality. The experience of Jon on the airboat was critical in placing Jennifer in many locations that enabled her to get this beautiful footage. She also produced the beautiful “Pine Rocklands Composition” centered upon the highly imperiled Pine Rocklands of South Florida and features Everglades prescribed fire.”


For more information about the film or fire management at Everglades National Park contact: Rick Anderson, Fire Management Officer, at 305.242.7853.

UPDATE: April 12, 2013: The park has produced another video about their prescribed fire program about a prescribed fire at a Boy Scout camp.