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.”

Mud Lake Complex of fires

Mud Lake Complex
Mud Lake Complex (no date provided). NPS photo by Cory Dutton.

The Mud Lake Complex of fires in Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve continues to grow in the two weeks since it started on May 8, and has now been mapped at 35,274 acres. The Complex is comprised of approximately seven fires that are being managed by Mike Dueitt’s Type 1 Incident Management Team.

We are not certain when it was written (possibly Friday May 22) but the description below from InciWeb is a good summary of the activity on the fires:

The Ellison fire continues to back, flank and make short runs in pine stands and grass prairies, with flame lengths of 8-12 feet in palmetto. Crews continued to work on slopovers outside the MMA. The Square fire continues to show active fire behavior with backing, flanking,and short runs with flame lengths of 6 feet in short grass fuels and 8-12 feet in palmetto. Smoldering behavior was observed in cypress stringers. Tactical firing on the northwest side of the Baker cabin was planned for today. Thunderstorms over both fires caused erratic fire behavior and caused the Square fire to make a run to the northwest near the north boundary of the preserve. Both fires received measurable rain today. There was a new start (the Sanctuary fire) in the northeast part of the preserve today. Precipitation occurred in the area. Aviation resources were used today to support ground operations until thunderstorm activity entered the fire area.

In the video below, Byron Hart, the Assistant Fire Management Officer (Fuels) at Big Cypress National Preserve discusses the challenges of the Mud Lake Complex of fires. Making this video of a leader on the fire describing what is going on was an excellent idea. Teams should do this more often.

Two more videos of interviews with firefighters on the Mud Lake Complex can be found here.

Mud Lake Complex
Mud Lake Complex. There is no description or date for this photo on InciWeb, but it appears to be an operational period briefing. NPS photo by K. Corrigan.

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.