August 16, 2016
Soberanes Fire Updates, August 15

Retreats and guest visits are canceled until August 22.

Department of Forestry clearing away dead trees on the Tassajara Road. Photo: Greg Fain

Department of Forestry clearing away dead trees on the Tassajara Road. Photo: Greg Fain

The Unified Command continues to do back burning around the perimeter of Tassajara to help prevent the fire from spreading. The fire continues to move very slowly, and we are getting more optimistic news from the Fire Chief that the fire may not get to Tassajara. Our senior leadership, including the President and three Abbots, will visit Tassajara Tuesday and Wednesday to assess the situation, and to determine if it is safe enough to reopen the guest season.
Because of the back burning, Tassajara is getting more smoke, especially in the evening.

Acres burned: 74,604
Total firefighting personnel: 3784
Percent of perimeter contained: 60%

Report from Layla Bockhorst:

August 11

Steve Davis, a very experienced wildfire firefighter and long-time friend of Tassajara, is visiting today, along with several other agency officials, including the Operations Section Chief, to objectively assesses our preparations. The officials who have visited Tassajara have been almost uniformly positive about the defensibility of Tassajara. Some have mentioned the historical importance of this place. They seem to enjoy their visits and tours, and leave with Tassajara bread and cookies. Tassajara staff and fire crew have spent many productive hours meeting with them, assessing our situation here and discussing strategy.

At this point, fire behavior is that winds are blowing the fire back on itself, plus the weather has been relatively cool and moist, so fire progression is slow.

August 12

Work continues clearing away flammable materials from around structures with a focus today on the flats. Dharma Rain is tested and adjusted daily. Doors have been constructed for the lower barn, and a rock wall continues to be constructed along the entire upper and lower barn area to protect these buildings from potential flammable materials that could come down from the mountain above. The five-day work project of clearing the helipad is done.

Yesterday we began transition to a 3-1 work schedule for everyone”three days of work and one day off — due to how hard people are working and the heavy nature of the work.

This evening we had a community meeting. After we looked at the fire map together, Director Linda Galijan filled us in on the visits from the various fire officials, including what we have learned from them and what strategies and plans have been discussed. She told about Steve Davis’s visit. Steve is a retired firefighter who has been working with us for many years, and yesterday he did an independent assessment and report on our safety here. It is worth quoting his report in full:

Assessment of Tassajara Fire Safety and Defensibility
2016 Soberanes Fire
Stephen E. Davis, USFS Division Chief, retired

August 12, 2016

I have examined the preparations at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in readiness for the Soberanes Fire.  The following reports my evaluation of safety and defensibility.

Conditions conducive to a positive assessment of safety and defensibility:

  • Location of Tassajara at canyon floor (heat rises).
  • Many unburnable rock faces.
  • Light fire fuel load surrounding Tassajara.
  • Successful defense in 1977, 1999, 2008.
  • Landscaping for fire.
  • Dharma Rain fire sprinkler system.
  • New array of fire pumps and hose.
  • Large water supply ponds in Tassajara Creek
  • Protective rock barriers (to catch rolling embers).
  • Dynamic decision process (Incident Command System).
  • No complacency noted.
  • Continuous situational updates — tracking of fire & weather, preparation meetings, interface with agencies.
  • Validation loop — ongoing evaluation of information.
  • No sign of group think / no parroting or optimism. Critical thinking evident.
  • Professional Academy trained fire crew.
  • Rest work cycle/fresh air trips outside Tassajara valley.

Independent fire personnel in consensus regarding Tassajara safety and defensibility:

  • George Haines— CalFire Unit Chief, retired
  • Dennis King — CalFire Battalion Chief.
  • Jaime del Valle — Cachagua Fire Battalion Chief.
  • Collette O’Connor — CalFire Fire Captain.
  • Stuart Carlson — CalFire Fire Captain, retired
  • Joe Rawitzer — CalFire Fire Captain, retired, & Fire Behavior Specialist.

My assessment is that the preparations at Tassajara are sufficient to provide for firefighter safety and the protection of Tassajara  in anticipated conditions.

Respectfully submitted,
Steve Davis,  August 12, 2016

August 14

Fire hose is being laid throughout Tassajara. Today, as test and as practice, the hoses were charged from the creek pumps, and the gardens and various plantings got some welcome sprays of water.