Fire crew at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness area of Los Padres National Forest (VERN FISHER/The Herald).
"Crews work to save Zen Mountain Center"
By DENNIS TAYLOR Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 07/04/2008
About 20 priests, students, and residents maintained battle lines Thursday in the Ventana Wilderness area of Los Padres National Forest to defend the oldest Buddhist monastery in the Western Hemisphere against flames that were about 1½ miles away.
The Monterey County Sheriff's Department evacuated about 75 guests from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center on June 23, and another 33 chose to leave two days later, said David Zimmerman, director of the monastery and resort. The 14 who remained have since been joined by six others and are staying despite the mandatory evacuation order. The 20-person crew has been asked to provide authorities with the names of their dentists for identification purposes.
"But we're feeling fairly confident here. Every firefighter who has come in and seen what we've done has told us the complex is defendable," said Zimmerman, who has been among those on the front lines, trenching out 10-foot-wide firebreaks, rigging makeshift sprinkling systems, and clearing leaves and other highly flammable materials from the area. "This is our spiritual home. It is a very precious place to us. "There is definitely a feeling of concern, and I think there might be a level of fear. Our practice, though, is to acknowledge fear, but not let it take over," he said. "We focus on what needs to be done this very moment, whereas fear is something that is based on future possibilities. Fear is not beneficial because it is based on the future."
A large measure of worry has been quashed by the enormous level of preparation the volunteers did in the eight days after the evacuation, during which they rose at 5 a.m. and worked into the night, breaking only for food. Professional firefighters showed up last week, helping prepare fire lines and teaching fundamental fire-fighting techniques. One fire marshal and two former fire marshals are among the 20 who are still there, waiting for the fires to arrive.
Two-man teams observe the progress of the fire throughout the night, one tandem working a 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. shift, the other on a 2:30 to 7:30 a.m. watch. Water is abundant, Zimmerman said, thanks to the nearby Tassajara Creek and the 50,000-gallon swimming pool at the complex. Winds and other factors could make the fire a more immediate threat at any time, but firefighters have told the Tassajara crew that the flames most likely will approach slowly.
Dennis Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-4344.