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'.
Residents 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 depends on the way in which the fire makes its way through the wilderness and that will be controlled mainly by the weather.