Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday night

We've been out shopping today. Well, life goes on (toilet paper and tissues) and life changes (electrolyte powder, oxygen and hoses, hoses and more yet hoses).

There's news and photos from Tassajara on the SFZC site.

One of the best sites I've found for information on the fire is the Firefighter Blog. When I read this site, I try to keep in mind that the forest needs to burn.

If you were confused by all that talk of dozer lines in the previous post there's a simple map here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Information Officers visit Jamesburg

We've just had a visit from some Information Officers for the Indians fire which was very interesting and gave us the chance to ask some of our own questions. So here's what we think we learned...

They feel that they have the Indians fire pretty much where they can handle it. There is a fire-line to the north of the fire running along Arroyo Seco Rd that they have been able to burn away from to establish an area of protection. They plan to drop firestarters from helicopters to burn the unburnt area between this fire-line and the fire.

They will then consider this fire almost-but-not-quite controlled as this will leave isolated pockets of unburnt country that could continue flaring up given the right weather conditions. The fire may not be considered out until the rains come in the fall.

The Basin fire continues to burn out of control to the north, south and east.
  • to the south it jumped one possible control line last night and the next line may be close to the San Luis Obispo county line.
  • to the north the fire is moving actively and continues to threaten houses and businesses.
  • to the east the fire continues to move slowly but relentlessly into the wilderness.
The current plan for controlling the fire to the north and east involves the construction of a large box within which the fire is allowed to burn and within which they work only to protect structures such as Tassajara and Church Ranch.

They have recently started construction of this box by reworking the dozer lines that were used in previous fires - these lines cross Tassajara Road at Chews Ridge heading north and south.

They also plan to back burn from the Tassajara Road within this box, possibly starting this within the next week if weather conditions allow.

There are many scenarios for protecting Tassajara that vary with the direction in which the fire approaches.

The recurring theme of the conversation was that they don't know what will happen as how the fire behaves and how they are able to combat the fire depends almost entirely on the weather.

Thank you and...

We are continuing to receive offers of assistance from many people. 

We are grateful for all of your offers however we are unable to accept any offers to help work at Tassajara as we cannot increase the number of people we have staying down there.

If there is another evacuation we may need accomodation in the area for the students leaving Tassajara so if you can offer somewhere to stay and haven't already contacted us please call.

The inmate strike teams leave

This morning the inmate crews left Tassajara to help prepare another site closer to the fire. They assured us that they, or other crews, would be back if the fires get close to Tassajara.

Before they left, the Tassajara residents invited the crews to join them in the morning work-circle where they went around the circle saying their names. The residents expressed their gratitude for the inmates' work, then gasshoed to the inmates and gave each of them a bag of cookies. There were t-shirts for the crew captains and the correctional officers.

The inmates, Strike Teams 1 & 6 from Fenner Canyon, then thanked the residents for the food and the respect with which they'd been received.

During their stay the Strike Teams slept by the pool, using the upper and lower barm bathrooms. They were able to take a shower at the bathhouse and enjoy the plunge for a few minutes.

All of which is evidence of a heartening change in attitudes towards the inmate crews since 1999.

Visit to Tassajara

Yesterday, Leslie and I drove into Tassajara for afew hours to deliver fresh produce and pick up the trash.

More later with photos of the improvements...

A couple of links

A couple of things that you may already have seen and that we weren't able to post yesterday:

LA Times article about the Basin Complex fires.

A Google group for the students evacuated from Tassajara.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday afternoon

A seemingly normal Saturday for us as we drove into the village to get produce...wondering if the smoky tendrils on the hillside were fog or smoke. Today, though, instead of our usual pile of boxes full of fruit and vegetables to be loaded into the trailer, we found a mere 25 boxes which we nested into the Suburban instead of the guests who ordinarily take the ride with us down the bumpy road to Tassajara.

The load in also included several gallons of ice cream for the approximately 45 firefighters and 22 students who are still at Tassajara working diligently. We don't know how long they will be allowed to stay, although the Basin Complex fire and the Indians fire appear to moving slowly and not currently threatening Tassajara directly.

Our neighbor and good friend, Tommy Nason, stopped by today to tell us about the bulldozing work started yesterday. Seven dozers are working fire breaks from the 1977 and 1999 fires, toward Arroyo Seco and the coast. His 85 year old father, Fred, rode his horse in front as they made their way to the coast, cutting fences and looking to save Native American sites that exist along the way.

It's cool and slightly smoky with a mild breeze here in Jamesburg...Tassajara laundry is on the line; bathhouse mats, kitchen aprons, mattress covers...waiting for the resumption of the summer we expected as we take care of what is needed for the summer we have now...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday morning

The weather here is cool, with little wind. The air is quite hazy. The fires are reported to have been quiet overnight.

We expect a group of 65 firefighters to arrive at Tassajara around lunchtime to stay for three nights. We assume they are coming to help prepare the site for if the fire arrives. The group comprises 2 engine crews, 30 inmate firefighters and 21 union men.

I remember being impressed by the amount of work the inmate crews did at Tassajara for the Kirk Complex fire - working for early parole, and $1 an hour when they're on a fire-line.

There are also several dozers staging on Tassajara Road before starting work on reworking the old fire-lines up on the ridge.

11:15 update: 4 dozers have moved on to the ridge, 1 unloading from the truck here at Jamesburg.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jamesburg notice

We've just had a visit from an Information Officer from the Fire Management Team. She told us that they are going to post an Advisory Evacuation Order for the Jamesburg and Cachagua areas tonight.

An Advisory notice is the first of three levels. Basically it's a heads-up to get the large animals to safety and to either move out ahead of the fleeing hordes or think about what we'd like to take with us when we run from the flames at the doorstep.

They are issuing the order because they are expecting the wind to change direction and start blowing from the south-east. And bring with it the chance of yet more lightning...

She also talked about how they were going to start revisiting the dozer lines from the Marble Cone (1977) and Kirk Complex (1999) fires as the containment box for the Basin Complex. We'd be on the outside of that box but Tassajara would be smack in the middle as the north edge of the Indians fire would be the south edge of the Basin Complex. Given the terrain, there are no other defensible positions within that area.

She also agreed that the fire, having started so early in the season, could burn for a long while maybe months.

Friday morning: The advisory evacuation notice.

Thursday morning

Yesterday was cooler than the previous days and the Basin complex fires seemed less active when viewed from the road. However this may have been a case of fire without smoke as the Gallery and Basin fires have now merged and consumed over 23,000 acres of the wilderness and burned 16 houses and 2 outbuildings. Highway 1 is still closed from Esalen north to the Ventana Inn.

The weather that is forecast for later in the week could bring a change in the wind direction and we noticed this morning when talking to incident fire commanders that they were saying 'if...' rather than 'when the fire comes to Tassajara'. Today is cool and the marine layer hung around for a while.

Work continues at Tassajara to build firelines and clear dried leaves and other fuel and pipes and supplies were taken in last night to set up a sprinkler system over some of the buildings. When firecrews have visited to check out the site they have been impressed with the work we've been doing.

We expect to have some experienced firefighters who are friends of Tassajara visit over the next few days to help prepare the site. However there are fears that the fire cold burn for a while yet. This is from KAZU:
While the Gallery Fire has caused most of the destruction, the Basin Fire remains unstaffed. Incident Commander Mike Dietrich explains, "When we looked at that in the middle of the wilderness, based on the availability of resources -- and this country is straight up and down and brushy and very unsafe..."

... Dietrich says firefighters will go on what they learned from the Marble Cone Fire that burned here in 1977. "The Marble Cone Fire is of particular significance because it burned for a long time and despite all the efforts to try to make headway within the wilderness area, fight the fire within it, it eventually ended up where it did. We have to learn from those lessons, that based on the number of resources that we have, there's no good place in the middle of the wilderness to fight the fires."

Our furry friends

Our furry teachers had to be evacuated too:

Ginger went with Alec to a friend's house for the night, looking unhappy at having to ride in the kennel in the back of the truck instead of her rightful place in the cab. She's relaxed and well and may move on to Green Gulch or Alec's Mom's house tomorrow.

Lumpkin is staying with a neighbour, Phyllis, in Jamesburg.

MonkeyBat has moved into the Jamesburg zendo where she has a devoted team of students tending to her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ventana closed

This order prohibits access to a large part of the Ventana Wilderness, making it a crime to be on the land, the roads and the trails in this area. There is now also a typed closure notice from the Monterey County Sherrif stuck on the ROAD CLOSED signs at Jamesburg.

And then there's the state of emergency in Monterey County.

China Camp sign

Scenes from the Basin fire

As the afternoon work circle formed on Saturday we noticed that the sky was ominously grey and active. A few minutes later some were soaking happily in the short spell of rain while a few wondered about the lightning.

That afternoon I could see smoke on the drive out and a more active fire was reported over by the coast closing Highway 1. Two days later, after a couple of spectacularly smoky afternoons, the Monterey Sherriff posted a mandatory evacuation notice and the guests left, bringing the summer season to a juddering halt.

Most of the students stayed to clear the grounds of flammable fuel and cut fire lines. Zazen became optional. As we drove back to Jamesburg last night the sky over the fires and south from there was full of smoke, the valleys too. We wondered how long the others would be allowed to stay.

So we weren't surprised this morning when Keith told us that the Forest Service had asked everyone to leave. Fortunately, as there has only been the one fire crew and engine at Tassajara they then relented partially to allow a few people with deep experience of Tassajara's infrastructure to remain.

A couple of hours later the convoy rolled into Jamesburg for a few chaotic hours punctuated by circles, lists and a fascinating array of hastily grabbed food. Everyone has now left for friends or family, neighbours and the other practice centres. At the meetings many people asked the same question in a variety of ways; What happens now?

How can I find out more?

You can stay informed about the progress of the fire at these sites:

Inciweb The official information site. This site hasn't been able to cope with the traffic volume since the wave of lightning strikes and is usually offline or very out-of-date.

Los Padres The current conditions in the Los Padres National Forest with links to short incident reports for both fires each morning and evening.

Wildlandfire is a site for the wildland firefighter. The forums sometimes have information unavailable elsewhere: Indians fire, Basin complex. If you have time on your hands they have a page of useful links to various maps and mapping applications.

A looping satellite image can be found here. This often shows impressive smoke clouds moving away from the fires especially in the afternoon.

If you have Google Earth you can download this file and you'll have access to the current information from the geospatial wildfire-mapping program of the USDA Forest Service.

KUSP The local public radio stations are the most useful local sources that I've found for news about the fires.

What is happening down there?

The short story is that Tassajara is currently threatened by two wildfires, the Indians fire which has been burning for a couple of weeks south-east of us and, to the north-east, the Basin complex of fires that were started by lightning on Saturday June 21st.

Tassajara has been closed to guests for a couple of days and most of the students moved out today leaving a few people with intimate knowledge of the plant and equipment to stay with the firefighters.

This map shows the locations of the fires as of this morning.

The Indians fire does not seem to be moving towards Tassajara. However the risk of back-burning for this fire running out of control was one of the reasons for this morning's evacuation.

The Basin fire is directly threatening us and the information briefings for the past couple of days have stated that the Basin fire continues to burn south and east towards the Tassajara Hot Springs Resort area.