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Tassajara Fire Crew consisting of Zen monks defend the monastery from the willow fire

The Zen priest expected to knock on the door before dawn, but the news on the other side did not meet his expectations.

Initially, Finnian Kelly, a Tasajara firefighter, thought he had missed an early morning mission to carry incense sticks at the Tasajara Zen Mountain Center.

Then he heard the word “fire”.

“I had mentally prepared it for a while and it was like, ‘Oh, this is it,” “Kelly, 23. At least a few more weeks. “

Fire exercises were motivated by the Basin Complex Fire from 2008. According to Sozan Miriori, president of the San Francisco Zen Center, the monks are currently being assessed by firefighters to ensure that the monastery is safe and the monastery is protected in the event of a fire.

Since the willow fire started on June 17th, seven Zen priests from the Tasajara Fire Department have structurally protected the Tasajara Zen Center. Wildfire burns in the Los Padres National Forest near Big Sur.

More than 400 firefighters were called to the incident.

Preparation for the unknown

The water level near the monastery usually rises in the early summer months. Currently, such a low level is not expected until the fall, said Kelly.

Monks train with professional firefighters. They investigate the fire behavior and confirm that the sprinkler system is working.

Zen firefighter Kevin Penn described the fire service team as “small but mighty”. In addition to removing brushes and debris from the monastery, the monks use a sprinkler system called “Dharmarain”.

Dozens of sprinkler heads distribute the water in the monastery and lower the temperature in a small area around the building. Even when the environment is hot and dry, the monastery’s cool, humid microclimate created by Dharma’s rain sprinkler system helps restore humidity overnight, Miriori said.

Dharma’s rain sprinkler system runs anywhere for 2-12 hours, depending on the temperature in the valley.

“Most of our practice here is something we neither know nor control,” said Zen firefighter Katie Garahan. “I remembered training with this“ Daruma Rain ”system and the confidence in this crew. I feel really well taken care of here by the crew leaders. I felt a sense of fear and suspicion, but I couldn’t imagine leaving. “

Katie Garahan, a Tasajara firefighter made up of Zen monks, used a sprinkler installed at the Tasajara Zen Mountain Center when she called structural defense training.  completed

It’s all over

The Tasahara Zen Center is located in the Ventana Wilderness inland from Big Sur and is said to be the first Soto training monastery on the west coast. San Francisco Zen Center website .. It is one of three practice centers that offer daily meditation, retreats, classes, lectures, and workshops.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 8,000 vacationers and 150 students passed through the Tasahara Zen Mountain Center in the summer.

Due to the pandemic, there are fewer residents in the monastery. The monastery remains closed, but the authorities hope to reopen it next summer.

Fire monks use Zen practice principles to contain the willow fire.

“I think forest fires are a good example of impermanence, one of the Buddhist beliefs,” said Kelly. “This is the reality that we are always faced with… we deal with the fire in them every morning while meditating, so we calm down for something like this. We sit and meditate for hours a day to keep up, and in light of that, we are already practicing avoiding each other. “

According to the US Forestry Department, 87% of the fires were contained and about 2,877 acres on Wednesday evening. The fire department firmly believes that the July 11 fire will be 100% contained.

“I just want to say how grateful I am to the firefighters,” said Miriori. “I really want people to be connected to themselves, to what is happening and the reality of what is going on in the world.”

All road closures around Willow Fire were lifted on Friday. These locations include Arroyoseco and Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley Road in Tasajara, and Tasajara on Kachagua Road. All evacuation warnings and orders from Willowfire were lifted at 6 p.m. on Monday, with the exception of closed forest areas.

To identify these restricted areas, go to the following URL: Los Padres National Forest.

The Tassajara Fire Department, made up of Zen monks, will protect the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center on Thursday June 24, 2021 during a structural defense training called.  completed Finnian Kelley, a member of the Tassajara Fire Crew, began climbing a ladder to secure the sprinkler head on the roof of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in Carmel Valley, California on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

David Rodriguez is an education reporter and staff photographer for The Salinas Californianian. For tips and story ideas, you can contact him at (831) 269-9363 or drodorriguez@thecalifornian.com. Apply Support local journalism.

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