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.


Alec said...

Thank you Jamesburg, I feel satisfyingly informed by this post. Please do this often! Thank You!

Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you for this post. Please keep them coming! My thoughts are with you all...

Danny Parker said...

This from Colin Gipson at 2:20 this afternoon:

Hi Everyone,

Things are moving very slowly with the fire. It is mostly a creeping fire with
some days of very large plumes. The fire by the Indian Caves was extinguished
yesterday, so we're now looking to the south, where the fire is in Willow
Creek, which is just behind Tassajara. At night you can see the glow from the
fire. It seems as though all along the coast is burning, as Big Sur has been
evacuated, as well as Esalen (I think). We don't get such good information
in Tassajara.
We now have a crew of around 23 people, which is expected to drop as the fire
gets closer. We have now taken to calling the fire "The 3 Day Fire"
as we are repeatedly told that the fire is three days away.
Guest season has been cancelled until July 24, and I would personally be
surprised if it reopens at all. Bulldozer lines have been cut all around the
Los Padres, and it looks as though the forest service is simply going to let
the fire burn itself out. The date they have set is...mid-November.
We would have normally had our July 4 skit night last night, but everyone was
too tired, and simply went to bed.
That's the latest news from here. All the fire crews that have come in have
remarked how well prepared we are and feel that we are very safe. I'll write
again when I can.


Erin said...

Thanks, Colin. It's nice to hear a personal account of the details! Especially as a family member of one of you (I'm Tim's sister). I'm relaxing a little bit since it really sounds like you all are prepared and now it's kind of a bizarre waiting game. Keep up your spirits and I'm glad you all got a little rest!
-Erin Kroll

John said...

We are all very grateful for the updates.. thank you. However, I am increasingly concerned after tonights' comments. "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.....Residents can expect little help from the fire services beyond the site preparation work that's already been done. "
If the fire services do not feel safe enough to fight the fire there and they are highly experienced professionals, how is it believable that a small group of volunteers "can ride out the fire safely if it arrives"?
Your wellbeing is also all of our' concern.

Matt said...

I had a thought. Have you considered equipping your vehicles with radios to report flare-ups as you go in and out?

I hope this helps,

Tim said...

Does "mellow" support include air support?

Museum said...

Thank you so much for your blog, which is exceptionally well written. It is a lifeline to those of us out here and far away who love Tassajara.
It feels comforting to know that there is a place I can go to find out about the Three Day Fire.

julie said...

This is for John and others worried about the fire danger to those at Tassajara considering that fire crews do not want to work down the Tassajara road. I was at Tassajara at the time of the marble cone fire that burned right down to the valley on more than one side. I am not worried about those inside both because of the protective preparation they've done and the way fire behaved around the valley floor in the past -- in '77 backfires were set on the south side of the creek but jumped the creek upstream -- the fuel load today is sure to be less than it was in '77 --- some areas had not burned for eighty years at that time. We built a helicopter pad when I was there so there should be a way for someone to get out in an emergency, assuming the pad is still there and it's possible to communicate with the outside. Also, once the fire has burned an area, you can go out that way, on foot if you have to. Eigth or so of us entered Tassajara on foot via Willow creek over the high pass to the southeast (name currently escapes me) because areas all around the horse pasture and the road were still burning and those around the road continued to do so for some days -- if I recall correctly. We need to let these fires burn. Problem is the time of year. We won't have such devistating fires if we do. Native peoples across California and much of the continent set fires regularly (every two years, rotating areas in one steep mountainous area of California I am aware of) for a number of reasons, but one major one was that regular fires (set with considerable knowledge about timing, etc.) keep the chapparal and overall fuel load down. Grass fire moves very fast and do little damage and actually a lot of good. I can't elaborate further just now.

Anonymous said...

It's good to remember what Julie has just written. Native Americans regularly burned the areas where they lived in order to prevent such catastrophes. We "modern" Americans, and modern forest management techniques, for some reason think that fire needs to be "suppressed" and what you have going on today is the result of that. Areas that have not burned for decades produce catastrophic fires.

The most inportant thing now is to be sure that the people still at Tassajara are not in danger and that they can get out as needed without harm. Please take care of yourselves. The bulidings can be replaced as you well know.

Ann said...

Every morning I go out on the dock and look at this great lake and the ridges going out and out in all directions--green and blue and wet. And I see the fire burning. Old timers here say hundreds of miles of Maine burned sometime in the 1920s, before this chain of lakes was created probably, but the river ran through it. Now my heart is at Tassajara and Jamesburg with all of you. I chant the Smokey the Bear Sutra and as many others as I can manage and I sit with fire and water.
Take care and thank you for the blog--I come to it every morning needing to know.