California Interagency Willow Fire Incident/AP
Firefighting monks and emergency crews have been working to defeat a wildfire burning in the rural hills of Big Sur, Calif. since June 17.
The Willow Fire, as of June 23, was 2,877 acres large with just 13% of it contained.
Though cooler temperatures this week helped slow the spread of the flames, local emergency services said crews are still fighting with difficult terrain that’s hampering efforts to quickly contain the fire.
Willow Fire broke out in a nearly inaccessible wilderness with few roads and poor-to-no radio communication areas. The terrain is considered “very steep” and hard for ground crews to access, according to InciWeb. Helicopters and planes are being used to monitor the fire, bring crews into the area, and to drop water on the blaze.
The fire broke out last Thursday in the Ventana Wilderness of Los Padres National Forest and burned near the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a Buddhist monastery located in a remote area.
#WillowFire Update 6/23/21
Firefighters continue to take advantage of the favorable weather to contain the Willow Fire. The fire is 2,877 acres with 13% containment. Due to the difficult terrain, hot shot crews were flown in to go direct with fire suppression. pic.twitter.com/NPYA7F9VMS
— Los Padres NF (@LosPadresNF) June 23, 2021
Firefighting monks get to work
This week, much of the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center monastery was evacuated, but according to reports from the Associated Press and The New York Times at least seven monks remained to help extinguish the fire and keep the center safe.
The center was already closed to guests this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The monks have been clearing brush from around the facility and running a sprinkler system they named “Dharma rain,” which helps keep the center’s buildings wet, Sozan Miglioli, president of San Francisco Zen Center, which operates the monastery, told the AP.
According to the AP, other firefighting monks later joined them from the San Francisco Zen Center and the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.
The group of professionally-trained firefighting monks have been busting blazes since 2008, when a wildfire spread to the Tassajara monastery. A dozen monks stayed behind to defend the center. Their efforts were chronicled in the book “Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara.”
Bad weather to return at the end of the week
A low-pressure system off the coast, cooler temperatures, and increased humidity is expected to continue for another day, allowing for improved firefighting conditions for a bit longer.
But emergency responders are watching for a return to warmer and dryer conditions, prime for spreading the wildfire further, by the end of the week.
The Willow Fire is one of dozens of wildfires currently burning in the West Coast, with Arizona and Utah hotspots. The number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a ten-year high, according to federal data, signaling a potentially long and dangerous summer.