A man swinging a blazing ball of steel wool to create a special effect for a photograph ignited a blaze that burned down the historic Monroe Station in the Big Cypress National Preserve last month.
Rangers investigating the April 9 fire in Collier County got a tip and questioned the man who said he climbed atop the station's roof to stage the photo, according to preserve spokesman Bob DeGross. The man, whose name was not released, said he hoped to create a “sparkler effect” by swinging the fiery ball attached to a rope while two friends photographed him from below.
While taking pictures, a spark ignited the building constructed in 1928 for travelers visiting what was then a remote corner of South Florida. The men said they tried to douse the blaze, but failed. So they fled.
“Spinning photography” — an effort to paint with light at iconic places — has been growing in popularity. But DeGross warned that pulling the stunt, especially in natural areas and in particular during Florida’s dry season, can have dangerous consequences.
“A lot of these images are taken on public lands whether city, state or federal, and there’s obviously a lot of potential safety issues,” he said. “The results could be something tragically catching fire or burning down.”
Park officials were in the midst of restoring the two-story station, one of six originally constructed by the Collier family to provide gas and supplies along the Tamiami Trail. Over the years, three were destroyed and one was moved and modified, leaving only the Monroe Station and one other remaining, which is now privately owned.
The park service had received a $450,000 grant to come up with a design and stabilize the building, which was on the National Register of Historic Places, but had not yet secured another $500,000 for the full renovations, DeGross said.
No charges have yet been filed, but park rangers continue to investigate, he said.