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Posts on the 2013 Tassajara Fire

Summarized Status

July 24July 23
  • Fire is 100% contained.
  • Tassajara is fully open and receiving guests.

July 23, 6:20 pm

Official word is that the Tassajara Fire will be 100% contained as of this evening. While there have been a few hot spots today that are still getting doused with water from helicopters, fire crews have been mostly working on clearing debris and cutting downed trees so that they do not become future fire fuel and won’t create logjams in the Tassajara creek during the winter storms.

Everyone is delighted that guest season is once more in full swing. Aside from the fire trucks still in the Tassajara parking lot, there are few indicators that anything unusual had happened recently in the valley. The fire crews' presence is noted mostly when they pass through the monastery grounds on their way to the fire site. Earlier plans to have 20 "mop-up" crew members stationed at Tassajara have been changed by the USFS, as they did not want to impose an additional burden on the community now that we had fully reopened to guests. The Tassajara staff appreciates the consideration and support of the USFS, and would have also welcomed the opportunity to host the crews further given all they have done. Once again, deep bows to the USFS and CalFire fire crews. May they be safe and out of harm's way as they turn their attention and efforts now to other fires in California.

And speaking of other conflagrations, Tassajara was not the only Zen community affected by fire this week. The Yokoji Zen Mountain Center near Idyllwild, CA was threatened by the Mountain Fire, which started July 15. While that fire is now reported as 85 percent contained and did not burn any structures of the monastery, Yokoji sustained significant damage from related flooding. SFZC is keeping Yokoji and its residents in our hearts and minds as they begin the hard work of recovering from the impact of the flood waters.

The accompanying image is a USFS elevation map of the burn area of the Tassajara Fire.

July 21, 9:50 pm


Sunday Evening Fire Update:
Almost there! The official word this evening is that the fire is 95% contained, while personnel on the ground say it’s effectively 100% contained. Helicopters will continue to dump water on any flare-ups on Monday, although USFS Captain “Doc” Murdock reported that the fire is not smoking anymore. Given the high degree of containment, crews began today the work of “suppression repair, trash backhaul, patrol and mop-up.”

The Tassajara road is officially open as of Monday, with no restrictions of any kind on travel. The USFS have begun pulling resources to other fires, but there will still be crews in the valley for the next several days to monitor the fire until it is completely out. Because of the continued presence of fire vehicles in the parking lot, Tassajara will have valet parking during this time (“Valley Valet?”). Signs instruct guests to drive to the work circle, where the shop crew meets them, and drives their cars to the flats. We’re delighted to have the valley full of guests again.

Tassajara Director Linda Galijan noted that all the fire personnel she has spoken with feel very good about the response to the fire—including bringing in helicopters and planes and personnel immediately, and in force—as well as about the current status of the fire. Linda also mentioned how careful and kind the fire personnel have been with Tassajara. This seems in part to be a personal expression, given that so many people love Tassajara. And then there may also be an element of the political, as many are still conscious of decisions by Incident Command during the 2008 Basin Complex fire that left Tassajara without crucial support. (See the book Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire, by Colleen Morton Busch, for an account of events surrounding the last wildfire.)

Regardless, Tassajara is deeply grateful for the all-out effort that has been made to protect the community this time around. We know that fire will return to the Ventana wilderness and to Tassajara, and it is Zen Center's ongoing intention to work collaboratively with the Forest Service and other government agencies whenever this happens again to ensure the safety and well-being of the monastery, the residents and guests, and the courageous crews who engage the fire.

Speaking of people who love Tassajara, CalFire Captain Stuart Carlson (and former Zen student) came by today for a visit. For many years Stuart has come each summer to assist in training resident fire crews, evaluate Tassajara’s emergency protocols, and offer first-aid training. The residents were happy to see him again and welcome back our dear friend. He had been assigned to a fire elsewhere in California or he would have joined us sooner.

The accompanying photo is of the fire crews heading to their trucks after another long day. They look not unlike Zen monks engaged in walking meditation (‘kinhin’) up the road. May they have a restful night.

July 21, 8:30 am

Sunday Update — Today is the fifth day of the Tassajara Fire, and the fire containment is now about 90% as of Saturday evening. The Inciweb.org site reports that the remaining 10% is in an inaccessible area, and that updated mapping shows the fire to have burned a total of 213 acres.

Yesterday crews continued their effort to draw the fire lines to a close and called on helicopters to drop water whenever spots flared up. One firefighter sustained a chainsaw wound to the hand and was airlifted out of the area and taken to the hospital.

The USFS said that the ability to fly crews in again on Saturday was a tremendous asset in boosting fire line construction and reducing the travel time and exposure for the fire fighters. The crews are expected to continue making great progress today towards total containment, which is expected by Tuesday, July 23.

Tassajara Director Linda Galijan said that SFZC Central Abbot Myogen Steve Stücky and Berkeley Zen Center Abbot Sojun Mel Weitsman arrived yesterday in preparation to ordain one of the monastery residents as a Zen priest in a special ceremony this evening. At dinnertime last night the two abbots “hung out with” some of the hotshot crews who were apparently really enjoying all the chocolate chip cookies and bread the residents made especially for them.

Linda reports that while the hotshots may be on their way soon, there will still be helicopters ready to drop water and, of course, continue to monitor the situation for a few more days. The USFS will start pulling resources on Monday, as there are several other major fires in California that need attention, including the Mountain Fire near Idyllwild in the San Jacinto Mountains, which earlier this week threatened Yokoji Zen Mountain Center. The Tassajara road is currently open between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. All non-fire-personnel traffic is strictly limited to this window of travel.

Many deep bows and mountains of gratitude to all the fire personnel for their tremendous efforts. Today's photo is of Michael McCord—Tassajara resident, Head of the Meditation Hall (Ino), and “fire monk” in training—who got permission to check out one of the USFS fire trucks.

July 20, 8:30 am

The day begins with good news! While the weather conditions Friday afternoon were more dangerous than anticipated, the fire crews were able to persist in continuing to further reduce the fire. Ground personnel (“the ones who really know”) say now that the fire is approximately 60% contained. Fire personnel will work further today to hopefully bring the containment to completion. As an ongoing safety measure, a USFS Fire Crew will again be stationed in Tassajara for the purposes of structure protection.

Because of this positive news, the Incident Command has permitted open travel on the Tassajara road strictly between the hours of 10 am to 6 pm (Saturday, 7/20) and Sunday (7/21) and perhaps for a couple of days further. Vehicles must be completely off Tassajara Rd. before 6 pm. Non-fire personnel traffic outside this timeframe will not be permitted, for safety measures, as a convoy of fire vehicles are traveling during the morning and evening times. In any case, we're very happy to report that it looks like Tassajara will be open once more for guest arrivals as of Sunday.

Tassajara Director Linda Galijan says that because of the significant percentage of containment now, the USFS anticipates starting to pull resources on Monday to attend to other fires in California. Apparently the conflagration level is ahead of schedule this year due to low precipitation levels. Looks like fire personnel will have a very busy fire season. May they all be safe from harm.

Linda also said that the USFS plans to station a “mop up” crew of 20 at Tassajara for several days starting the beginning of next week. They will ensure that all embers are out, finish clearing up fire-fighting debris and equipment, and attend to any remaining wilderness clean up. They will camp out at the "flats," use the monastery hot springs and eat with the residents. Tassajara is delighted to be able to host the mop-up crews and have the opportunity to spend more time with these hardworking men and women.

We’ll continue to post regarding further developments, including—we hope—announcement of the full containment of the fire. We extend our continuous deep gratitude and bows of appreciation for all the support, well-wishes and generous expressions of love and concern. Tassajara and SFZC feels greatly blessed with the bodhisattva care, love and attention of so many during this time of uncertainty and challenge.

Included here is a photo of Tassajara Work Leader Allison Tait with several fire "hotshots." If you look closely, you can see that her T-shirt reads, "Imagine the world with more Zen."

July 19, 7 pm

Friday, early evening update — With recent changes in the weather conditions (hotter and windier) Maeva Juarez, the Incident Command-in-Training, told the Tassajara Director that she was apparently less optimistic earlier this afternoon about making significant progress on fire containment today. (Reports strangely vary between 5-55%.)

Last night a log rolled downhill and started a new fire that burned five acres, growing the total burned to 174. Consequentially, crews will not "spike out" (camp near the fire) tonight as originally planned because of the danger to the crews from rolling material and snags, but hike out at the end of shift today. Inceweb.org reports that "crews continue to be challenged by the steepness of the terrain, potential for rolling material, poor radio communications in the steep canyons and difficult access. Helicopters continue to support the ground crews with water drops, as isolated islands and snags within the interior of the fire's perimeter continue to burn."

The IC is being more conservative about when the road might open and is now saying that it may not fully open until Monday, rather than Saturday as had originally been thought possible. All is unpredictable and subject to change . . . once again the fire offers a primary teaching in Buddhism.

We hope to have another report from the Tassajara director either later this evening or mid-morning on Saturday. Again, we extend our deep wishes for the well-being of the fire crews, everyone in the monastery, as well as the wildlife in the wilderness.

July 19, 11:16 am

Still awaiting news of the fire's status this morning (Friday), although last night, Incident Command-in-Training Maeve Juarez told Tass. Director Linda Galijan that the fire was now about 55% contained. There were 7 crews (20 each) in all day yesterday and are returning this morning. There is hopeful expectation that the fire may be 100% contained within the next 24 hours.

Head of Practice Greg Fain shared that "it’s all pretty quiet. We hung out with the hotshot crews after they came out yesterday—they were very dirty, very hot, and very tired. We all had lots of questions for each other. The fire burned in “fingers,” and they were going around each finger with fire lines, rather than outlining the whole area, which is the best way to do it, but means a lot more work.

SFZC and Tassajara want to once again extend our deep gratitude to the numerous CalFire and USFS crews who have been diligently attending to this fire. We acknowledge and are indebted to their courage, skill and deep concern for the well-being of
both Tassajara and its residents/guests as well as of the beloved Ventana wilderness. We appreciate being able to work in partnership with the fire crews to take care of these treasures.

A separate photo album that includes images of many of the fire crews has been posted on Facebook.


July 18, 8:30 pm

As of 8:30 pm, no further updates at the moment, but one fire tracking website has stated that the fire is now 40% contained. May it be so.

Greg Fain, Head of Practice for the monastery, reports that at one point today there were 28 firefighting trucks in Tassajara at the same time. Tonight they're all leaving but for one crew of hotshots.

So for now, we wish you all a goodnight and leave you with this image of the moon (a symbol of enlightenment in Zen) rising over the valley as a vigilant helicopter finds its way home at the end of a long day. May all beings be safe and rest in ease.

July 18, 5:37 pm

Mid-afternoon update on the 2013 Tassajara Fire — A USFS captain at Tassajara said that today is the critical day, and that 2 - 6 pm is the critical time for the fire--the time of day when the fire has the most potential to spread (due to heat of the day and increased afternoon winds). Helicopters are flying back and forth pretty continuously, dropping water and fire retardant (but avoiding getting retardant in the creek). Fire crews continue cutting fire lines and clearing brush in the difficult-to-navigate terrain. Earlier this morning, it was reported that the fire is about 15% contained, but that many lines are still open. They are working to completely contain the fire with fire lines. By early this evening, they expect to have a much clearer sense of what the situation is likely to be tomorrow.

Some service vehicles are stationed on Chews Ridge, while others are in the Tassajara parking lot, including a few Forest Service vehicles. There’s also a USFS engine crew and another crew from Cachagua stationed at Tassajara to provide structure protection (as a precautionary measure). Bryce Nason, the son of our long-time neighbor, dear friend and Esselen tribe member Little Bear Tom Nason, is part of the crew.

Between 2 and 3 pm this afternoon the road was held open by fire crews for guest departures via convoy. While a majority of guests have elected to leave in the last two days, some 20 are staying on in the valley, along with 68 students. Air quality in the valley is apparently quite good despite the proximity of the fire. A USFS captain told said that the road is definitely closed for tomorrow (Friday), with a window again from 2 - 3 pm for further departures. There’s a 50% chance that the road will be fully open by Saturday afternoon for guests to re-enter.

Tassajara Director Linda Galijan reports that the mood in the valley is very calm and peaceful, and residents are just carrying on with work, practice and our usual schedule. Everyone has been completely willing, open and flexible about meeting any and all requests the arise moment by moment. The remaining guests seem to be enjoying themselves as well. They ask questions and are interested in what is happening. The guests, too, seem to be practicing in the spirit of Zen. Asking, “What is this?”...and then relaxing with a open mind with what is.

May everyone continue to be safe. We hope to be able to post a further report later this evening.

The above photo is of the fire in the confluence of the Tassajara and Church Creek watersheds.

July 17, 8:42 pm

Update on the Tassajara Fire -- Tassajara director, Linda Galijan, just met with Pete Harris, Fire Incident Commander. They dropped 8 firefighters near the fire by helicopter earlier this afternoon, they worked for awhile, and walked out. Pete says that the fire is generally laying down well; however, the terrain and access are making it difficult to fight the fire, which is located around the confluence of Church and Tassajara Creeks. The area burned in 2008, so there are lots of dead trees, and they are falling and making passage up the creek difficult. Helicopters just stopped flying for the night.

Early tomorrow morning, eight fire crews (20 persons each) will be dropped in by helicopter (they made landing pads near the fire for the purpose today). Pete expects fire crews will be working through tomorrow, and maybe the next day. They are not currently expecting crews to encamp at Tassajara. We don’t yet know what any of this means for Tassajara Road, and whether anyone would be able to come in tomorrow, or by what time. We should know more in the morning.

July 17, 7 pm

A fire of approximately 200 acres is currently burning in the vicinity of Tassajara, several miles away. Four air tankers , five helicopters and over 150 fire personnel are working on the blaze that broke out about 1pm this afternoon. They are dumping lots of flame retardant and water, and beginning to engage the fire by hand, and it seems to be settling down. There are also plenty of fire personnel at Tassajara, although Tassajara is on voluntary evacuation alert. Guests and students who felt inclined have left. Greg Fain, Head of Practice, says that he feels “very safe” and not too concerned.

Interesting timing, as the July 10 was the 5th anniversary of the 2008 Basin Complex fire that passed through Tassajara five years ago.