Photographer Accidentally Burns Down Historic Landmark

In a decision that defies common sense, a photographer climbed a nearly century-old wooden building in the Big Cypress National Preserve and proceeded to shower it with sparks from lit steel wool. The building burned to the ground.

The Monroe Station was built in 1928 as one of six service stations serving the Tamiami (Tampa to Miami) Trail, a far removed section of the Big Cypress National Preserve. Completing the entire trail from Miami to Fort Myers was considered an engineering feat on par with building the Panama Canal. Until recently, the Monroe Station was one of two remaining stations from the original six. It served as a communal gathering point, selling gas, containing a diner, and even hosting several weddings. 

Monroe Station, courtesy of the National Park Service.

So significant was its presence that the National Park Service purchased it in 1988 and began restoring it in more recent years. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Unfortunately, on April 9, a group of approximately 30 photographers on a photo walk decided to stop at the station, and one of them tossed steel wool to another who was on the roof. Inexplicably, while standing on a wooden building constructed in 1928, they lit the steel wool and proceeded to take shots of it, before realizing the building had been set ablaze. Officials from the Big Cypress National Preserve said that the photographer (who has confessed to the stunt, but not been identified) and two other photographers attempted to put the blaze out, but were unable to and subsequently fled the scene. 

I find it sad that not only was a chain of inarguably poor decisions made, but no one out of a group of 30 photographers stopped the events that were unfolding in front of them. Watch the news story above to see how the loss of the building affected local residents. 

Lead Image by David Albers (Naples Daily News Staff), used with permission. 

[via Miami Herald]

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Simon Patterson's picture

Thanks Alex, that gives much more credence to your story here. What a terrible thing for photographers to do. It is good for photographers to speak out against such vandalism, which you have done well. Thanks for publishing the story.

Regarding the drone story, the limited facts that were obtained from the police were not reported accurately by F Stoppers, who clearly over reached as was pointed out at the time, even before the plastic bag was mentioned. See Petapixel's much more responsible story, based on the same facts, as a contrast.

Unfortunately, all this means that you need to defend your stories in the comments now, which you have done here and done well. It's a pity you need to do this, but it is a reality of a publisher losing the trust of its readers.

Alex Cooke's picture

Regarding the drone story, I'll point you to the original source for our story, ABC's Los Angeles affiliate, who used information from the Associated Press, who sourced it from the police:

Our story's facts exactly mirrored those of the ABC story, with only the additional information of characteristics of the specific model of plane involved and its airspeed at the time, which was obtained from ADS-B data of the actual flight. Feel free to compare the two:

Simon Patterson's picture

Alex, that's not the story I was referring to. I referred to "drone hits plane", not a near miss article. Here is the article I referred to (in updated form, I see)

T Dillon's picture

Showered it with sparks from steel wool.... don't call him a photographer. Sort of demeans anyone who calls themself a photography. This was an idiot who happened to have a camera.

Nathan Hamler's picture

Wait wait wait....where did you read that it was the result of a steel-wool-sparks type photo?? Didn't hear anything in the news story, OR on the Miami Herald article.....

Alex Cooke's picture

Several news outlets reported it, and a photographer who participated in the walk admitted to the events in an Instagram post of it.

Simon Patterson's picture

A reference in your article to the news sources that reported that photographers burned down this historic building would probably have helped here, too. The link in the article to the Miami Herald story didn't mention it, which prompted Nathan Hamler's original question about this.

Simon Patterson's picture

This is a good question. We have a trust problem because F Stoppers published other, obviously unsubstantiated claims such as "drone hits plane" which were later reduced to "oh it was probably just a plastic bag".

Now all similar claims made on F Stoppers (including this one) are suspect, until they are substantiated by a reputable source.

Alex Cooke's picture

Hi Simon,

The drone article you're referring to was sourced from a local police department, which is about as reputable a source as one could ask for in such a context. It was only when the airline itself came out and revised the story that we ourselves also revised it to reflect the updated circumstances. As I stated above, the nature of this incident has been reported by multiple news agencies. I did not include the Instagram post I mentioned as to avoid a witch hunt against someone who was not actually involved and only witnessed the event. Nonetheless, here's a screenshot of it with identifying information removed. I hope you understand that we take sanctity of reporting very seriously here.

Einstein Espinal's picture

That image I believe if from sometime in October.
On April 9th the police reports 3 photographers being there, one climbing to spin wool and 2 others taking pictures.

It says they tried to put it out and then took off, with one turning himself in 2 days later. None of the involved parties have been identified by the authorities yet.

A shame.

Michael Cushman's picture

The image above is from a Miami Swamp Meet, on September 12th, 2015. SEVEN months (34 WEEKS) prior to this Monroe Station incident. The comment in the picture above, has nothing to do with this article, so it should not be mentioned as facts to this particular incident, since it did not happen on April 9th, 2016. FStoppers and PetaPixel both need to research facts better before allowing articles to be posted.

Prefers Film's picture

So you've given up on Fox and CNN as well?

Simon Patterson's picture

Well and truly.

Robert Raymer's picture

This is why we can't have nice things...

Prefers Film's picture

I've seen the steel wool shots pop up on IG, and figured it was only a matter of time before something stupid happens.

Alex Cooke's picture

It really is a shame. Flinging fire on top of a wooden building... it's very upsetting.

Brendan Baker's picture

When will steel wool shoots become cliche? They're getting old now. Been there done that type of photography. Time to be original and creative and find something else to photograph.

Prefers Film's picture

We used to weave steel wool through our spokes, ignite it with a 9V battery, and ride down a steep street at night on our BMX bikes. That was 30+ years ago, and I've always wanted to photograph it. But now, it seems like that would only inspire stupidity.

From what I recall, the very finest steel wool burned up quickly, with the least amount of heat. Maybe people are using hotter-burning coarse wool?

Deleted Account's picture

Can I add the levitation shots to the list of cliche's that need to go away? Please...and thank you!

Brendan Baker's picture


jonas y's picture

This is the second incident of photographers(or they thought they were) burned down a historic site within 3 months. This really hurts the image of photographers as a group.

Alex Cooke's picture

Are you referring to the shipwreck in California? That was terrible as well.

jonas y's picture

I am. Next time a location manager takes a more anti-photography approach I would understand why.

Alex Cooke's picture

Are you referring to the shipwreck in California? That was terrible as well.

Ralph Hightower's picture

I saw that Clyde Butcher was interviewed at the scene. Clyde is famous for going into the swamps with his large format cameras. He's added DSLR to his stable; it looks like he's shooting with a Canon TS-E 17mm f4L at this scene.

Sean Molin's picture

I am in no way, shape, or form supporting the actions of these careless steel wool photographers who are burning down historic buildings and shipwrecks left and right it seems...

But that video came off as an odd fluff piece. It was a boarded-up, rickety old abandoned house that hadn't been of any use to anyone in 30 years. I just couldn't understand the massive community outpouring of disappointment. I wonder if there were a bunch of people saying "good riddance to that eyesore" that they chose not to interview.

user 65983's picture

Hahahaha Sean I was thinking the same thing. Those people in the clip probably never thought about the building till that incident happened.

Einstein Espinal's picture

It's actually been in the Registry of Historic Buildings for some time now. And plans to restore it, unfortunately fell beneath too much bureaucracy to protect it in time.

Sean Molin's picture

Nearly 30 years of bureaucracy for a boarded-up building... sounds like the photographers might have one everyone a favor by this point!

Lee Smith's picture

It wasn't Michael Fatali was it?

Jim Clark's picture

Has Micheal Fatali graduated from Fire Logs in Utah to Steel wool in Florida?
With Fatali as a negative example at Delicate Arch in Utah - throw the book at these guys. Criminal Arson, negligence and everything possible. PRISON time is needed.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

So, after this case will steel wool be regulated and will we see FSWA?

PS: That's the art, baby...

Paulo Macedo's picture

In other news, a "selfie addict" climbed up a 125 years old statue of a portuguese king and broke it so hard it became impossible to repair.

Ricky Perrone's picture

Im pretty sure that Clyde Butcher the landscape photographer in the news story.

dhiya ram's picture

Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your valuable information. We strive to provide our candidates with excellent care.As always, we appreciate your confidence and trust in us.

user 65983's picture


Ingo Meckmann's picture

I live in the area and what nobody mentioned was a "Fire Weather" warning by the National Weather service that was in effect for the entire weekend here in SW Florida.

David Sanden's picture

I can see signs in the future posting: 'No Photography Due to Fire Danger.'

John Wheelwright's picture

I find it odd that you describe this miscreant as a photographer. I would think common, garden variety criminal would have been a more apt descriptor.

Robert Herrera's picture

Odd are that these people weren't photographers..... they were people with cameras. It's like saying a baker burned down an apartment complex after trying to make brownies. Just because you have an oven, doesn't make you a baker. These people are careless and have no clue what they are doing to begin with.

Alex Cooke's picture

One of the photos I saw was quite competent. While I would love to protect the sanctity of our profession by being able to say no "real" photographer would ever do that, the sad truth is that even talented people made stupid decisions.

Robert Herrera's picture

I would like to think that a photographer would have the common sense and professionalism to do everything right... I myself am working on a fire shoot with a model and it's taking me forever because I'm taking every precaution before even attempting the shoot. From release forms, permissions, fire safety, to the camera settings.

Travis Alex's picture

As a licensed fire spinner, and someone who teaches and practices fire safety with fire performers for the last 4 years, I'm really sad and angry to see this article.

#1 rule of spinning fire: You don't spin indoors or in tight spaces. That includes perimeter, which means shallow flammable rooftops. Only spin in controlled and monitored environments, which means fire that can easily be contained.

These people have a large amount of disrespect for fire, and I loathe them. It's beyond stupid and reckless. I will not defend these people and no one should either.