Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fire Monks

Fire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch  256 pp.

In June of 2008 one lightning storm sparked 2000 wildfires across the state of California. One of the places in danger of burning was the Tassajara Zen Buddhist Retreat Center near Jamesburg. The Center is located 1600 feet up in a remote mountain valley. The monks had protected it with assistance from firefighters twice before. This time, however, authorities could not promise them help. During the month preceding the arrival of the fire the monks and visitors set up "rain" systems to keep essential buildings wet and less likely to burn, ran fire drills so the monks knew how to handle the fire hoses, pumps and other equipment, cleared away flammable brush & debris, dug fire breaks, and secured a communication line so they could keep in contact with the "outside world" should they become cut off. When the fire moved close, fire officials ordered the evacuation of everyone at the center because there would be no outside help to protect the center. Five of the monks, including the abbott turned back and returned to the center to protect it the best they could. Amazingly, these four men and one woman managed to save the center without serious injury to themselves and with the loss of only a few structures. The story is an amazing one and also raises the questions as to why the center was denied assistance, even water drops, when water planes & helicopters were sitting on the ground unused.  It's an interesting story.

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