Saturday, July 26, 2008

Smoke gets in... everything. Well, it does when the air is taupe as it was yesterday afternoon at Tassajara. Ash was falling heavily. We'd been thinking of staying the night but that plan dissolved as soon as we arrived. Obviously this heavy smoke layer was reawakening doubts about the timetable for reopening guest season and the wisdom of having a large number of people down there.

It appears that the air is clearer this morning and Inciweb states that today 'will be the last day of firing operations if all goes well. Crews will begin the transition from securing line and mop up to rehabilitation work'. There is also talk that the crews, who are already beginning to leave, will all pack up and go on the 30th.

On the drive into Tassajara there were flames on both sides of the road between China Camp and the ridge. On the way out we were able to see that large areas of Miller Canyon were alight. And a large portion of tree had fallen across the road.

Standing on the other side of the tree was the Ino, Judith, who has been having no luck at all with her journeys across the road. She was smiling widely and shouted out that 'there's a man with a chain-saw'. While he was firing up his saw another truck pulled up on our side of the tree. He had chains and was able to pull the stump off the road. All cleared in about 10 minutes. Many thanks.

The tree from which the roadblock had fallen was still alight. We could see flames about 20ft up where the trunk had burned through and the section had fallen. This was one of many trees festooned with festively red KILLER TREE tape.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Work periods

This is what I understand:
From now until August 3rd there is a work period to restore Tassajara so that it is as close as we can get to pre-fire.
If you'd like to come and join us for at least 5 days out of this work period then you should call 831-659 2229 during business hours.

The guest season will open sometime in early August. We are currently aiming at August 3rd. The end of the work period will obviously dovetail neatly with the 2nd coming of guest season.

And then there will be a return to the schedule as posted. The autumn work period will start on September 15th. If you'd like to come to this work period then you should call 831-659 2229 after August 15th.

Smoky mornings

The Basin Fire is now over 150,000 acres and 79% contained. The IC says that the back-burning was successful and has now finished, so we're a bit confused about that remaining 21% that's uncontained. Anyway, it's been smoky here this morning (much more so than has become 'usual') as they continue burnout operations to eradicate the islands of unburned fuels.

The number of people fighting the fire is beginning to drop even as thousands of acres burn each day. I imagine that this shows that they have confidence in the firelines.

The roadblock out on Carmel Valley Road was fairly low-key yesterday evening and we hope that the voluntary evacuation will be lifted tonight. All of the roads will then be freely open. However, there is still a lot of fire traffic on the road so if you are coming down, watch out for that.

Abbot Steve has gone into Tassajara to work on the emotional clean-up from the fire. A community meeting was scheduled for last night that we all here at Jamesburg were sad not to be able to attend.

Garage sale

Ann Overton, a Tassajara student from the 70s is having a Garage Sale to benefit Tassajara. These are the details:
  • Sat. July 26, 10AM to 3PM
  • 2407 Ward Street (near Telegraph) in Berkeley. Ward St. is 4 blocks north of Ashby.

Donations (Yes, please!)

  • Leaving things at my place when I'm not here doesn't work in this neighborhood. Please don't do this.
  • I'll be home to receive things on 1) Thursday, 7/24 3PM to 9:30PM and
  • Friday, 7/25 5pm to 9:30PM. (Apt. 1)
  • If those times don't work, email me.
  • Or just bring stuff the day of the sale. (Sat. 7/26)
  • I also come into the city a couple of times a week. It's possible that I could stop by and pick things up. email me.
  • Let's avoid stuff more that weighs more than 25 pounds. (If I have to lift it.)

Other things

  • Come buy things!
  • If you're feeling unusually generous you could come by and help out with set up, clean up, or just stop in for an hour or so, smile at everyone, and help sell things. email me.
  • A truly remarkable person would offer to swing by at the end (3pm) and take all the unsold stuff to goodwill. email me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just sitting...

Lots of activity here in Jamesburg this morning. Up the road. Down the road. Cheese into fridge. Cheese out of... Well, maybe not yet.

Anyway, over the hill in Tassajara, we think that they're now running on a work period schedule. Which means that zazen is once more on the schedule, and no longer an optional activity as it has been since the fire bounced almost everyone out of the zendo a month ago.

Once more unto...

Yesterday's final group of returnees weren't as lucky as their earlier colleagues. They were turned back at the top of the hill after waiting an hour and spent the night here in Jamesburg. The zendo once more bcoming a dormitory.

They tried again early this morning and were again turned back. Told to try again later. This morning's MODIS image shows why (click on the image to enlarge). The fire has moved up one of the small creek beds in Miller Canyon and is now burning both sides of the road and now appears to be burning in the area of the observatory that has previously been back-burned.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Influx maybe...

A small convoy, 3 vehicles with 14 people, just left Jamesburg for Tassajara. Another part of today's steady flow of returning students.

The phone rings. Myo, driving one of our Suburbans in this convoy, reports that a local resident has told them that the back-burn has jumped one of the lines and the fire service is turning people back. myo is going to drive on until someone stops him but it seems as if the fire really doesn't want to die.

Tim phones from the road-block on Carmel Valley Road to ask us to send down a list of people so that the Sheriff will let them pass. We're confused as quite a few people have got through already with this morning's list. 'We've already sent a list'. After a tense wait, the list emerges and they can at least get this far.

Update 17:20pm: Myo calls again from the ridge. After being stopped at the top of the hill, they waited for 40 minutes until the Head Guy arrived and told them, 'Sure. Give it a try.' So they did and are now on their way down the hill. Probably not in time for dinner, but...

The road less travelled

After dropping off a large load of recycling and picking up produce for the returning students I drove into Tassajara, stopping to take a few photos on the way.

In some areas the fire is still actively burning, or the firefighters are back-burning around structures.

Some areas are still untouched by the fire.

But along most of the road the fire has stripped away almost all of the vegetation revealing hidden details. This is the Church Creek trail from above.

The valleys are still full of smoke. The horizon hidden.

Tassajara felt dead to me. A ghost-town, stripped of the life that normally fills the summer months. If they can get past the road-block on Carmel Valley Road some 40 students will return today to start the clean-up and bring fresh energy to the valley.

More photos available here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Now's your chance

We are accepting applications for work practice students from July 25th through September 26th, for a minimum of 5 days.

As you can see from the state of the pool, we need a bit of help to clean Tassajara and make it ready for the reopening of the guest season. And we also need to prepare for winter and the onset of the rains so there's more than enough work to go round. See the SFZC website for details.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day with the Phone

Today was beautiful and mostly clear at Tassajara and at Jamesburg, even though we hear that the burn outs are still going on. Most of the day at Jamesburg was spent making contact with evacuated residents to firm up plans for return on Tuesday. Things are happening very fast again as they drop plans and change directions. Thank you to all of them who are responding so readily to the call to return.

A couple more things from the trip to Tassajara yesterday: The front lawn is amazingly green and lush from all the sprinkler watering on the roof of the student eating area and office. There is a new hatching of Canyon Wren babies at the Kaisando. There don't seem to be many blue jays in the valley; they must have flown away. The road is in remarkably good shape - about the same on the Tassajara side of the ridge and better than before the fire on the Jamesburg side because of fire crew grading and watering.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trip to Tassajara

Keith and Leslie went into Tassajara and out today. Even though we were both here during the Marble Cone fire, seeing the hillsides so gray and bare was disturbing. We know that rebirth happens when the spring rains come (hopefully gentle and not 100-year storms like in 1977), but
it is still sad.

The air was quite smokey because there are back burns happening in Carmel Valley and the fire itself is working it's way down Miller Canyon. There also seemed to still be fire happening south of Tassajara.

A lot of the trees in Tassajara that seem fine have leaves that are singed or turning brown, but if you don't look too far up the hills or at the fire equipment that is still laying around, in most places Tassajara looks just the same.

More tomorrow. Goodnight.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Busy Day

Many things changed with the downgrading of the Mandatory Evacuation. Tassajara and Zen Center decided this morning that we would invite all of the residents to return on Tuesday, 7/22. So I have spent the day calling people with the great news of "come on home".

We are going to try to open the guest season by August 3. We aren't sure that we can do it, but we will try. Most of what must happen is cleaning up, which we are good at. There are a few fences to re-build and that compost shed to repair.

Many of the neighbors here at Jamesburg are out shopping and picking up their long awaited mail. It is good to see everyone again. We said a sad good-bye to our great benefactor, Jack Froggatt, Branch commander for this area. We hope to see him again some day in easier circumstances. Thank you, Jack.

David's July 9 Evacuation Account

Look here for David's account of the July 9 evacuation.


Last night about 9pm, Information Officer Berni called to say that the Mandatory Evacuation had been downgraded (at 7:30pm) to a Voluntary - all the way to Tassajara itself! This means that residents and their employees can come and go freely, but should keep their bags packed in case something changes. They will be checking ID's outside of Carmel Valley through the weekend so that tourists and people in town for some race will not be coming out sight-seeing. There is still a Mandatory on most of Carmel Valley Road from Tassajara Road east to Arroyo Seco.

We want to check again this morning to be sure that someone going in would not run into all those big trucks we have seen going up the road, but this morning there have only been 8 fire pickups coming down. Maybe they all got out without our noticing.

Next step, what is needed at Tassajara before a lot of people can be there. There is a conference call this morning to start working on this. Things are going much faster that I thought yesterday.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

An Update from Tassajara from David Zimmerman

It’s been a week since the fire passed through Tassajara. Four of the Tassajara five remain secluded at the monastery. (Abbot Steve Stücky was able to leave early Wednesday morning.) We are doing fine, with more than enough food and water, and finally also catching up on rest. Most of us haven’t had a day off in the last month, what with the numerous evacuations, fire preparations, staffing logistics, and then the fire itself. We’re now focusing on a number of projects, including documenting the events of the fire, reviewing the damages, considering what and how to begin repairs, replacing the burnt piping to the spring box, restoring the Stone Office to its pre-bunker state, and planning for the work period days prior to the (hopeful) reopening of the Tassajara 2008 summer guest season. We are also looking forward to welcoming back the displaced sangha members and to together reestablishing the rhythms of practice and community that are the heart of Tassajara.

A haze still hovers in the valley, despite what seems like a fairly constant breeze. Without the foliage on the mountains, it seems to be windier down in Tassajara. There’s a hint of fall to the trees remaining on the hillsides, as many of their leaves are turning brown since being scorched. Ash continues to accumulate on the grounds and buildings. The sound of rock slides is heard frequently throughout the day and night. Already the lesions marking the fire’s entry into Tassajara are being slowly veiled by falling oak leaves, suggesting that nature’s healing process has begun. Deer are continually spotted on the grounds enjoying the green vegetation, and the squirrels only seem to grow fatter on the spoils of the compost shed treasure.

I’ve been able to write up an account of the events of July 9th, the day of the third evacuation and leading up to the morning of the fire. I hope it will help to clarify the many questions people have had about how it came to be that only five people remained at Tassajara. The exercise of writing this account has helped me to better understand—and to allow a new found spaciousness for—how we all respond to the ever-changing conditions of each moment with the best effort we are able to make at the time. The decisions we make may not be the “right” ones, but they are simply the best decisions we can make in the moment before us. And we are never alone in our choices, for the whole universe co-creates with us the myriad dharmas and our responses to them.

On behalf of the Tassajara five, thank you all for your tremendous outpouring of support, concern and love. It nourishes us greatly to know how much everyone cares about Tassajara and the wilderness around it, the well-being of the residents of this valley, the vitality of San Francisco Zen Center, and the continued flourishing of the dharma.

Bows of gratitude,

David Zimmerman, Director


Of course we all have questions about when we can get back into Tassajara. The main first step is for the road to open. That is up to the Forest Service and the County. No new word on that today, but for sure a few days away at least. They are still burning, hardly any smoke in the air here because the wind is blowing the other way.

The other necessary step is for there to be a viable compost shed at Tassajara before we are all there making compost. Keith and Steve Stuckey are talking on the phone right now about how to do that. In the meantime, I heard that the four at Tassajara are keeping the compost buckets in the walk-in.

Thank you to all those people who have offered to come to help. Please keep checking the Zen Center web site where we will say what we need as we know it. Also, Jane, we are talking about how to gather information that we have all learned in these fires and floods. I heard that Ted and Steve had a conversation at GGF.

I also heard that the trees in Tassajara all seem to be fine, including, miraculously, the big oak at the Birdhouse.


We at Jamesburg are asked to keep the updates coming, so here's the latest - if uneventful - report:
The phones are quiet this morning. The crew at Tassajara is working on the documentation of the events of July 9th & 10th, with the help of Stuart Carlson & others. Jack hasn't stopped by yet. Yesterday he told us that a replacement crew would be shadowing in the next few days - his tour is almost over. He is hopeful that "the service will continue." We are unspeakably grateful for his hard work and kindness... and we feel relieved for him. There are still about 2,000 personnel working on the Basin Complex Fire. And of course, so many more throughout the state of California. Thank You to each of you for laboring on behalf of us all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Burn Happening

The "burn out" seems to be going well according to everyone who has come by. They may make it to Carmel Valley Road today. (Going north along the east side of Tassajara Road from the Observatory to the Nason's Ranch and then east along a dozer line to CVR about 3 1/2 miles SE of Tassajara Rd.) Keith and Leslie took a walk up Kincannon Canyon and could see billows of smoke to the south, right where it should be. There is a nice cool breeze which seems to be blowing the smoke some other direction.

Just wanted to mention that a week ago today when Robert, Sonja and Simon brought a whole lot of granola, milk and apples here to Jamesburg to feed the evacuees, I never thought we would use it all. But we are working our way through it - and happy to have it.

A young buck came to drink at the pond today as we were having lunch. It kept looking suspiciously at the windows, but it didn't seem to be bothered by the trucks going by.

Quiet Morning

Good morning, folks. Things are quiet here in Jamesburg, although it is much warmer than yesterday, so we have some hope that the firefighters will be able to get their "burn out" going.

Abbot Steve Stuckey came over the road this morning early on his way to San Francisco. Such travels are still not allowed without permission because there are a tremendous number of firetrucks, water trucks, buses, etc. going up and down the road. For safety's sake it is really good that the mandatory evacuation is in place. Steve brought a box of food for us from Tassajara - a reverse town trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Holding Pattern

It's dinnertime at Jamesburg, with the usual caravan of fire engines coming back down the road, the local news muted in the background and a bit of opera in its place.

It was not a good day for the intended backburns - the fire traveled a quarter of a mile and then fizzled. Our thoughts are with the fire crews - it seems that this "slopover" has become a discouraging problem.

"The potatoes are getting overdone," I'm told. That's my cue.

"Taking a deep breath"

More road closures in the Jamesburg area this morning, in preparation for the (intentional) firing out from the observatory along the east side of Tassajara Road, reaching down to the Ventana Ranch and east to meet the original dozer line. The humidity is up - they're waiting for a favorable change but hope to put fire on the ground today. That means Tassajara Road remains impassable.

The air at Jamesburg is smoky but the birds seem unbothered as they flutter and splash in the pond outside. Inside the phone continues to ring - neighbors calling for updates, Zen Center personnel staying in touch, Tassajara students filling us in on their many adventures beyond. The crew here is beginning to see the bottom of the fridge, and so, a deep cleaning...

Moments ago Steve reported that the air quality at Tassajara is improving. Some of the folks there are working on the water system. For them, a Thai breakfast. "What's the most important thing?" we asked. "Taking a deep breath," replied the Abbot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vacation time

Some of us are leaving Jamesburg, leaving MonkeyBat in charge of a small crew of three. We plan on being gone until next weekend but given the hard road closures up at Carmel Valley Road, we'll be waiting on the outside with the rest of you to see how the fire progresses.

The fire is still not contained on this side of the dozer line so we trust that Jamesburg and Cachagua will still be standing when we return.

You can now find the Director's account of the fire at Tassajara and its effects here. Yesterday a couple of firecrews made it down the road to Tassajara to help with mopping up.

We'd like to thank some people for their sustained hard work in preparing Tassajara for the fire, and whose names you might not find elsewhere. Firstly the 15 who were ordered to leave Tassajara on the day before the fire: Aliyu Turaki, Bryan Clark, Carl Coppage, Devin Patel, Glenn Bradley, Jenine Alexander, Johan Ostlund, Joseph Schommer, Lauren Bouyea, Kim Seibel, Mark Macfarlane, Shundo David Haye, Steph Wenderski, Tim Kroll, Tom Johnson. Two people, Gina Horrocks and Michael Bodman left the day before the final evacuation.

For further information about Tassajara and the fire please see the SFZC website.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hot Sundae

It's Sunday afternoon. Hot and worryingly windy. There's been a lot of activity on the road as the fire services try to contain the fires that have slopped over the dozer lines into the White Oaks area. For a good discussion of the current state of the fire try the Cachagua Store.

We're under a Mandatory Evacuation with "hard" road closures so nobody is going in to anywhere around here for a while.

David Zimmerman sent a report to both Jamesburg and City Center yesterday evening. It's too long for this format so it should go up on the SFZC website sometime this afternoon.

The folks down at Tassajara are doing fine. Getting some relaxation while keeping a wary eye out. They may walk up the road this afternoon to check what state it's in.

Jack Froggatt had flown over the area this morning and he told us that the road wasn't in too bad a state and that there was green around Tassajara.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cachagua Fire

If you don't read the comments on the blog entries you're missing an interesting discussion on community and practice that's happening on The Wood Shed post below.

We've been intending to say something about Cachagua Fire for a couple of days now. They're the local volunteer fire service, so if you're taken sick at Tassajara, or need any kind of emergency help while out in the wilderness, it's Cachagua Fire who come to the rescue.

A couple of nights ago, the Sheriff had their roadblock in the wrong place. Preventing residents returning home from a community meeting where they'd been promised at least 24hrs notice of a mandatory evacuation. Cachagua Fire were there arguing with the Sheriff on behalf of their community.

Strangely, as a volunteer service they somehow find themselves outside the provisioning system when tied in with a large fire command structure such as manages the Basin Complex. So the local community has to pitch in and feed the fire crews. If you're in the area, they're selling t-shirts at The Chatterbox in Carmel Valley Village.

Yet another evacuation?

When Jack Froggatt stopped by for a very quick visit this morning, the news wasn't so good for Jamesburg. The fire has jumped the dozer lines and spot fires are burning in the White Oak area. They are hoping to snuff out these fires before they get a hold so there's a lot of air activity, a lot of engines and crews moving up the road.

The land this side of the ridge hasn't burned in a long while so there's plenty of fuel and the firefighters have to wait for the air support to drench the area before it's safe for them to enter the forest and fight the fire on the ground.

A small crew from Berkeley are now working on preparing this site.

Neighbours report that cars are being stopped at the junction of Tassajara Road and Carmel Valley Road. One of the fire crew believes that this area went to a Mandatory Evacuation in the last 30 minutes.

With the fire so active it will be a while before the road over the hill is cleared.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The wood shed

Tassajara lost another structure this afternoon when the woodshed by the inside parking lot burned. The pool is now full of debris and rocks. There are small problems with pretty much all of the infrastructure.

There is no helicopter access to the Tassajara site. In previous emergencies we have had to ferry people to the ridge so that they can be airlifted from there. So thank you for the offers to helicopter people in and...

Please do not come to Jamesburg. There is nothing you can do from here to help Tassajara that you can't do just as well from home.

The Jamesburg area has just been moved one notch up the evacuation scale to a Voluntary Evacuation notice. The local fire service seem confident that the firelines will hold the fire which continues to burn vigorously on the north and that the new evacuation order is just precautionary.

Fire crews backburned away from The Observatory today and that is now safe.

Friday July 11th

The Basin Fire burned over 9,000 acres yesterday with slope driven runs, spotting and torching in the East Zone. The area around Tassajara is now completely burned out and the crew report that they had a quiet night and are planning to rest today and to start to assessing the damage. They held morning service in the zendo.

To the north, the fire was held at the Pine Ridge trail with helicopters dropping a lot of retardant in an attempt to prevent the fire reaching the dozer lines. Jack Froggatt dropped by this morning on his way to the ridge this morning and said that hand crews would begin fighting the fire on the ground to try to protect this ridge line.

He also told us that it could be a week before the road was open. They have to be confident that the fire is not going to cut off their escape routes before they can send in dozers to begin to clear the many large rocks and downed trees. David reports that the parking lot at Tassajara is now a boulder field.

Jack also told us that the fire burned so hot and fast that it killed off most of the vegetation and that there could be problems from falling rocks and trees for a couple of years.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

So what now?

Yet again that question with no answer comes calling...

Let's start by making the assumption that the Tassajara crew make it through the night safely and that there are no fires started by embers rolling down the hills.

The fire burned a large area today making a sweeping run from the Church Creek drainage up and over the road to Rocky Creek. Burning rapidly up and over Black Butte. Almost all of Tassajara Road from the dozer lines to Tassajara has been burned. Tassajara itself is surrounded by black.

The road is still surrounded in parts by fire and where the fire has passed by, there are large rocks and fallen trees blocking the way. We were told this evening that it will be at least a couple of days before the road is safe enough to send a dozer down the road to clear this debris.

So one answer is that it will be several days before anyone is physically able to drive down to Tassajara.

To get up to the dozer lines we have to get past the CHP roadblock at the edge of the forest, so what about the multiplying layers of legal and administrative closures that have to be lifted before we can freely use the road.

Well, here the story is more uncertain. The closures and evacuations will not be lifted until the fire is much less active and dangerous than it is this evening. We here at Jamesburg are behind a set of firelines that may be severely tested in the next couple of days if the forecast wind shift pushes the fire in this direction. This fire is still dangerous.

Another dispersal

The 17 people who arrived at Jamesburg yesterday have now moved on. This is a record of their brief stay here.

The caravan rolled into town about the same time as the CHP started preventing local residents going up the hill to their homes. Most of the locals had come from a community meeting where they'd been promised 24hrs notice of a mandatory evacuation so feelings were running high out on the street and inside the house.

A call to Tassajara produced the suggestion that another 8 or 9 people would be useful. When this was put to the evacuated group the unanimous consensus was that their agreement had been to trust the advice of the professional volunteers down at Tassajara who had been training them and helping them prepare the site.

While there was some confusion about the swift change in the advice, from safe to not-safe, they trusted the advisors. They were surprised that the people who had returned had done so outside of the group agreement.

The group was adamant in their desire for some professional guidance that the situation was safe before they returned.

After this meeting, some people went off to stay with local people who had offered space for the night and the rest made dinner and set up tents or beds in the zendo.

The President of Zen Center who had been intending to go to Tassajara, arrived with other senior staff and while they were considering whether to try to get into Tassajara we got news that the fire had crossed the road. A couple of people did try to drive up the road early Thursday morning and were turned back by CHP at the National Forest boundary.

This morning there was coffee, breakfast and a visit from Jack Froggatt who confirmed that the road was closed and could be closed for several days.

We met as a group and discussed the situation and the lack of any answers to the plethora of questions we all have. After dealing with the immediate practicalities of where everyone wanted to sleep tonight we chanted the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo and the Fire Eko and then started to disperse.

So far, so good

The fire has passed through Tassajara and is making it's way down the creek. Everyone who has stayed is safe and very tired. They plan to spend the night maintaining a watch for embers falling from the hills above.

They report that the Tassajara grounds are an island of green in a sea of black. A testament to the recently installed sprinkler system and the twice daily irrigation of the site.

The fire approached quickly from three sides shortly after 1pm and passed over Tassajara mercifully fast. The crew were able to move around outside the safe space and keep the sprinkler system working.

Several small buildings were lost: the Bird House, the compost shed, the wood shed and the pool bathroom. The radio-phone and half of the lower garden were also destroyed.

Clarification 9:00pm: The front of the fire has passed Tassajara and was burning the meadow below the lower barn early this evening. There appears to be no fuel left to burn in the valley. The remaining danger is from embers falling down the hillsides. This danger may persist for days and diminishes as time passes.

Exodus - partially

Yesterday evening 17 people arrived at Jamesburg from Tassajara. The other 5 evacuees decided to return to Tassajara when they reached the Forest Service check point and were told that they would not be able to return if they left. Two people transferred from one of the Suburbans to another car and that car along with the lumber truck turned round and went back down the hill.

Now at Tassajara are: Steve Stucky, David Zimmerman, Graham Ross, Mako Voekel and Colin Gipson.

We are in regular phone contact with the group who appear to be on their own for a while as the fire has now crossed the road around Lime Point. CHP is also manning a barrier on this side of the hill preventing any access to the National Forest. The fire has not yet reached Tassajara.

The team at Tassajara plan to keep the pumps fuelled so that the sprinkler system stays on. They do not plan to fight the fire and they are receiving a steady flow of requests not to try to do anything heroic.

The morning satellite data shows the fire approaching the road along a broad front with spot fire above the road.

If you're using Google Earth this file has the fire perimeters up to the 8th together with the dozer lines.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 9th - evacuation

On the advice of the experienced Fire Service people at Tassajara we have decided to evacuate everyone. While they have not yet left, we expect them at Jamesburg shortly. The fire has not yet reached Tassajara or the road.

We do not know how long Tassajara will remain empty but the current Red Flag warning does not end for a couple of days. Fire crews have told us of strong winds at the ridge. These winds together with the extreme temperatures and little or no recovery in humidity overnight produce ideal conditions for the fire to move faster than we had hoped.

We appreciate that this news may cause concern but please do not call the Tassajara or Jamesburg numbers as we need the phones.

We have places to stay for the current round of evacuees for a short while.

The wrapping team finished their work shortly after lunch.

There is now a Highway Patrol vehicle at Jamesburg preventing non-residents from driving up Tassajara Road.

Wednesday - July 9th

It's hot here. The temperature was already 85F at 11:30am up on Chews Ridge. Mouse over the stations here to get the current weather, the Chews Ridge station is the Indians Port (FRWS-40).

The fire service seem to be holding the fires in Tassajara (above) and Willow (below) Creeks to a slow creep. The lines on these images are the daily fire perimeters for the past week. The red and orange dots are recent hot spots from satellite data - red within the last 12hrs, orange 12-24hrs.

However, the fire is now taking a hold in Church Creek and could have an uphill run to sections of the road above Lime Point.

We're trying to take some time off over the next couple of days, so for a longer discussion of the Basin Fire try Wildfire Today.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Afternoon on the 8th

This Google Earth image shows that the fire is still continuing to creep down Tassajara Creek and is now at the confluence with Church Creek. Last night on the drive out we could see flames further up Church Creek thick smoke from Tassajara Creek just above the confluence.

The aggressive helicopter attack on the Willow Creek fire-front appears to have bought some time for structure preparation.

Firefighter Blog has an explanation of why there is less help from the fire services than we've been fortunate to have in the past.

More road closures

Carmel Valley Road is now open only to residents from just outside Carmel Valley Village to Arroyo Seco Road.

The helibase at the junction of Carmel Valley Road and Tassajara Road is slowly getting busier. More engines, cars and trucks, more tents, a grove of porta-pottys.

We're seeing much more activity in the area with convoys of trucks or engines moving up and down the road - they seem to go in teams of 5.

Yesterday afternoon, we passed one such team parked in the shade just above Jamesburg. The crews were waiting outside their engines, some of them passing the time by playing hacky sack in the road. When we returned they were gone.

Wrapping things up - July 8th

We've just had another visit from Jack Froggatt and he had some interesting news that he said had been a surprise to him last night when he'd been told.

There's a team of 20 firefighters up on the ridge with 17 rolls of protective foil ready to roll into the monastery and wrap the buildings that we most want to protect. That is, if we want them wrapped. They can partially wrap buildings, for example, the side of a building up against the hill or totally wrap them, for example, the isolated hill cabins.

They're planning to offer to wrap structures at all of the isolated sites in the wilderness starting from the Tassajara end of the road and working there way out.

As he walked to his truck he also explained that they're using the helicopters to buy time while they finish off the structure protection and line-cutting.

Update noon: We've just heard from David that they've decided to wrap the buildings and that they and the team (from Indiana) are now taking the tour and deciding what to wrap. The wrapping will provide extra protection and the residents will not have to leave.

Monday evening

We drove in to Tassajara this afternoon to deliver produce and supplies and remove a load of flammable recyling, and a couple of residents who'd decided to leave.

Along the road the view is mostly hidden behind a series of smoky veils. Each wrinkle in the land adds its contribution to the cloud and soon the hills are hidden.

Arriving there we walked into an empty rainstorm - the sprinklers were on in the main area and only a few people were around before dinner. The baths were deserted and the decks were cool and damp.

Everyone seems to be in good spirits and yet tired of all the waiting. They were wondering why the helicopters were pounding the fire near them when the overall strategy is to let the forest burn within the big box.

I went down to the loft to collect some stuff for an evacuee and was struck by the obvious signs of a hurried departure that were everywhere.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday morning - July 7th

As some of you have noticed the fire made a little run up to the top of the ridge above Willow Creek yesterday and is now visible from Tassajara. This was the fire moving uphill. To reach Tassajara, the fire must now burn downhill which it should do at a much slower pace. Click on the above image for a Tassajara oriented view of the fire's location. The red and orange dots show where the fire has burned in the past 12 and 24 hours.

We've just had a visit from Jack Froggatt the Branch Commander for this section of the fire. He said that they're going to warn David when they think that the fire is 24hrs away and that his best guess is that it's still 72hrs away. So we all shared a laugh at the 3-day fire which has been 3 days away from Day One.

Jack said that he'd been looking at the fire in the Tassajara Creek drainage this morning and there was very little activity there. He could see 'no smokes' from the leading edge of the fire here. The helicopters have been dropping retardant and water on it and seem to have been able to keep it subdued.

He confirmed that the Willow Creek area is the most active part of the fire approaching Tassajara and that they were hoping to hold the fire above the junction with the Tassajara creek so that the fire didn't approach Tassajara upstream.

On the northern edge of the fire, Jack shared that 5 days ago he didn't think that they would need to back-burn from the dozer lines that extend from Chews Ridge. Now he thinks that they'll be burning from those lines in the next 7-10 days.

The SFZC website is now saying that Tassajara is now closed until July 27th.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Later Sunday evening

The fire does seem to be more active today. David at Tassajara reported that there was a lot of active smoke visible.

On the northeastern edge, the fire has reached the top of
Uncle Sam Mountain. Flames are now visible from Cachagua and parts of Carmel Valley.

The collected fire perimeter data for Google Earth from the Western Trails Network is now here. This also includes the northern dozer lines for this, and previous, fires.

Hot Sunday afternoon

It's hot and the wind seems fresher today. Not good news for the firefighters and there's hotter weather to come with temperatures over 100 forecast for next week with winds starting off from the north and northwest before an offshore wind on Wednesday.

The east side of the Basin fire has been stalled for a few days with hardly any movement overnight and no hot spots from the past 24hrs that are nearer to Tassajara. Helicopters have been used to check the spread of the fire, dropping water and also performing some limited back-burning.

However the most recent Inciweb update suggests that the fire is more active today with '
Active fire runs with occasional group torching.' in the East Zone of the fire. It also reports that 'Fire is moving down the Tassajara drainage near the fork of Church Creek'.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Jack Froggatt stopped by Jamesburg for a chat on his way into Tassajara. He's the Branch Commander for the section of the fire management area containing Tassajara and he had some interesting things to say. So we thought we'd use the opportunity to take stock of what we think we know and what we know we don't know.

How long is the fire going to burn? Everyone from the fire services that we talk to expects the fire to burn until the winter rains.

At some stage they will announce that the fire is contained within the big box of dozerlines and firebreaks. Within that box there will be a mosaic of burnt and unburnt country - it won't all be black. Until the rains come those pockets of unburnt country will occasionally flare into life, sometimes spectacularly as we can testify. On our day off we were able to see a huge column of smoke from such an area within the Indians fire containment zone.

What does that mean for Tassajara? This is where we head off into the things we know that we don't know. Nobody knows how the fire will progress. Where it will burn and when. And it's the path that the fire takes that will govern Tassajara's future and answer questions such as;
When can I go there?

As an example of how uncertain the course of the fire may be, we were told when the residents were evacuated that the fire would reach Tassajara in about 3 days. That is still the best prediction we can find.

What does that mean for Tassajara? Everybody seems to be quite confident that Tassajara can survive the fire. Jack said that they expect the fire to either creep down the creek or over the hill on the other side of the creek. They believe that the residents can ride out the fire safely if it arrives.

So what's the problem? The road.

Tassajara is at the end of a long exposed road in difficult terrain. From what we were told this morning, the Incident Command is not willing to send crews into a site where they may be cut off from the outside world for several days. Jack said, 'the problem is not the fire, it's the accident or the heart attack when you're three days out from a hospital'.

esidents can expect little help from the fire services beyond the site preparation work that's already been done. The description of the support they may provide that we heard was 'mellow'.

What should I do now? That's a difficult question to offer guidance on. From now, the whole shape of the summer d
epends on the way in which the fire makes its way through the wilderness and that will be controlled mainly by the weather.

July 5th - morning

The Basin fire has now burned 68,712 acres and is 5% contained. The fire is still actively burning on every front though overnight activity was low due to relatively high humidity. You can find the current Inciweb map here. The fire is now the #2 priority in the state with the Santa Barbara fire taking precedence.

Hotter and drier conditions are still forecast for tomorrow.

The firefighters dropped over 50 loads of water on a spillover into the Church Creek drainage yesterday and that now appears to be out. It seems that within the overall strategy of letting the fire burn within the big box, the Incident Command is attempting to manage the speed with which the fire spreads.

Several fire crews from further afield have joined the crews working in the local area. From Indiana, Vermont and other colder eastern states they were reported to be working hard to acclimatise to the heat and terrain. There are currently firefighters from 40 states working on the fire.

The item recorded yesterday at Tassajara by the NBC crew should be shown on the Nightly News tonight. You can see the footage after the news on the Santa Barbara fire here.

Fire progression maps

Jim from the Western Trails Network has been uploading the fire perimeters and IR maps for the Basin Complex fire. I've shamelessly piggy-backed on his work to produce the above map which shows the movement of the fire's edge from June 30 to July 4. (Click on the map for a larger image)

Each line is red so it's a little hard to see in the image but the innermost line is June 30th, the outermost line is July 4th. Where there are only two line, the big jump was from June 30 to July 1.

You can download the collected perimeter data to Google Earth here.

Friday, July 4, 2008

New theme song

We went to see WALL-E yesterday, so all day we've been singing along with Michael Crawford.
Put on your Sunday clothes, there's lots of world out there
Or the words have been rolling around my head. Which makes a pleasant change from reading the weather forecast that shows extreme high temperatures for Sunday and the start of next week. The wind from the northwest should continue to move the fire slowly down Tassajara creek towards the monastery.
Get out your brilliantine and dime cigars
That's in the future which is maybe where it should stay for now. Today the fire has again been creeping down the creek. The maps we receive show little movement for now on the eastern flank of the fire.
We're gonna find adventure in the evening air
The NBC crew filmed a fire-drill, talked to the Abbot and the Director and then left. There still seems to be lots of media interest in Tassajara with an early morning interview on NPR being bumped by the death of a Senator.
Girls in white in a perfumed night
There is now a helibase at the junction of Carmel Valley Road and Tassajara Road and we believe that the helicopters are scooping up water from the Narrows. They have instructions not to drop fire retardant on the rock formations visible from the road as the Forest Service doesn't appreciate their rocks being painted pink or orange.
Where the lights are bright as the stars

Jamesburg action

We've just had a visit from Steve, John & Ryan (from the right in the photo) from Alameda County Fire. They're part of a California OES strike team that is visiting houses on this side of the fire to check fire preparedness and to do what they can to improve things.

The team of 5 engines started at the top of the hill and has been working its way down. Today they rolled through Jamesburg and the Alameda crew drove up our drive.

After a short tour of the site they cut back a couple of overhanging trees very artistically. A crew from Oakland (Jay, Mark & Justin) then came and helped them clear some ground next to the zendo and after a short drink break they were off to their next site with our gratitude.

They left us with a list of things to do which we'll get to over the weekend, though moving the wood-pile leaning against the zendo might have to wait a while - it does have a metal roof and a bare-earth fire break.

A short while later a water tanker drove up the hill spraying the road with water to keep down the dust. Hallelujah!

On the other side of the hills have a blog that's updated frequently with news of the fire over at Big Sur.

Xasáuan Today normally writes for 'a small audience of aging beatniks, social and environmental justice advocates, cyclists, and backwoods retro-grouch types' but now they are posting news of the fire. They also have a good page of fire related links.

Ventana Wilderness Forum has a discussion of the fire that often contains breaking news first. As it's an unmoderated forum, they advise you to '
...keep it civil and take it with a grain of salt'.

July 4th - morning

It's cool and still here this morning which is good news. The fire hasn't moved much closer to either Tassajara or Jamesburg overnight. The morning incident report on Inciweb reports, 'Isolated pockets of surface fire with occasional single tree torching and moderated fire behavior due to higher relative humidity.'

We've used a donation to buy better breathing masks for the resident firecrew.

A crew from NBC TV news followed our car over the hill so if you're close to a TV tonight...

Several fire trucks went up the road with flags fluttering as a sign that there's a holiday out there. We hope you however you choose to celebrate your independence that it's safe and heartening. We're planning some cookies here.

Abott Steve Stucky is still in Tassajara.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Some things just can't be rebuilt

A volunteer firefighter died after collapsing on a fireline in Mendocino county.

On other fires in California, two dozer drivers were injured after their dozers rolled while constructing firelines.

Our thoughts are with their families
. And with the families of all of the firefighters on the line.

July 3rd - evening

The fire continues to creep towards Tassajara.

This map shows where the fire has been burning in the past 24 hours. It shows that the fire is racing north and south at speed but only spreading slowly to the east. To the north the fires now threaten Big Sur where 1500 residents have been evacuated.

The weather, which had been helping firefighters, has now become less favourable. The fire management team are now saying that the fire will not be contained until the end of July.

For a fuller discussion of the fire, try here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fear and burning

"The buildings can burn, but you can't actually burn down Tassajara. Fire can never touch Tassajara's heart."
Devin's words (taken from the LA Times article) ring true to me. Here's part of the reason why.

Lots of people like the Tassajara zendo and would hate to see it in ashes. Yet, this is a building which owes its life to a fire. A temporary replacement for the zendo which was destroyed by a local fire the year after Zen Center students fought hard to defend the monastery against the Marble Cone fire.

While we sit with the possibility of the fire reaching Tassajara we are playing with the idea of how we could take our cue from the seeds that need fire to open and use this fire to renew ourselves, our community and our places?

The dislocated community

While the folks down in Tassajara are at home, working away at jobs they find meaningful, getting on TV, a larger part of the Tassajara community is having to work, possibly much harder, dealing with the emotional effects of becoming displaced. Torn away from home, job and meaning.

How are you doing out there? Sitting with the unknown, the ambiguity?

Morning July 2nd

The sky is clear and it's a day off for some of us here at Jamesburg so we're heading out to try to find some clean air for a while. In the meantime...

Inciweb seems to be back up and working. Responsibiility for fighting the Basin Complex fires is split between two management teams, Tassajara is in the East Zone.

This Google Earth overlay shows that the fire didn't get any closer to Tassajara overnight. Note that to get the latest satellite information you have to reload this file so I have the link as a bookmark in the browser and don't save the CONUS data to My Places when I close Google Earth.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday evening

Most of the Jamesburg crew went in to Tassajara today to deliver the shopping and pick up the trash. And to bring out a couple of people who need to visit the dentist, and who must now wait out here with the rest of us. This I have been told:

Everyone at Tassajara is in good spirits and seem much more rested now that the schedule has eased off a little. They wanted you all to know that humor is still part of their lives and that they are enjoying having something to do that they believe in. In some unusual ways it's still very much Tassajara.

They asked about the people who had to leave and how they are doing. They wanted to know if there is any way in which they can help them maintain a connection to Tassajara.

One noticeable change to the schedule is that there is now a nightshift watch. Two teams of two people are on watch through the night, the first team from 9:30pm to 2:30am when the second takes watch until the wake-up bell.

Kathleen talked to Stuart Carlson (a fire-captain friend of Tassajara) who was very positive about the work done to construct the defensible space. He emphasised that in his experience the places that survive fires have been those that have made similar improvements, for example, the firelines down to the soil that now encircle Tassajara, the regular watering of the surrounding foliage, the sprinkler system.

Tassajara is now in the area managed by the team from the Indians fire. The Information Officer for this fire is now making daily visits to Jamesburg and today he told us that all he had heard about Tassajara indicated that it can be defended against the fire.

He brought with him this morning's map of the fire which showed a movement towards Tassajara in the area approaching the Oryoki Bowls, and that the fire was now well established in the Tassajara Creek drainage.

The weather forecast for the next couple of days is for north-west winds which could bring the fire closer.

Some photos from the weekend

Shundo sent out some photos from the past couple of days and I'll try to upload them later tonight. This is the view of the road from the Tony Trail.

This is the work-circle with the Fenner Canyon inmate Strike Teams geting ready to leave.

Smokey The Bear Sutra

The students at Tassajara have just asked for the Smokey The Bear Sutra by Gary Snyder and I've sent it in to them. You can find it here or here and then join in the chanting.

KION news item

KION had an item about Tassajara on their nightly news last night. You can see it most easily via Zen Center or on KION itself.

Update 14:45pm: Tim sent this comment that I've moved up front as it shows how far the ripples can reach.
CNN aired portions of this video this morning using source footage from KION, apparently not including the local reporter. I didn't catch it, but my mom did. This is what she said about it:

"It was a :30 package with peaceful shots and the interview – then the anchors commented about how they would like to bring some of that same philosophy into their daily lives – Tony [the anchor] took a deep breath and said 'breathe' - may have been the last sound bite if that’s David. They commented on it being an amazing story and how they were doing the right thing to clear the brush and how that's important – almost as much chit chat as the package itself."