Some mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted in the remote mountains of the Ventana Wilderness east of Big Sur as firefighting crews have gained the upper hand on the week-old Willow Fire.
The mostly slow-moving blaze began a week ago Thursday night, and it has burned 2,877 acres as of last night. That's up from 2,850 acres on Monday night, with favorable weather conditions the past few days having helped increase containment lines. As of Thursday, the fire stood at 26% contained.
The Willow Fire has been burning in rugged, very steep terrain that is inaccessible by roads and it has not caused any structure damage so far. Things had looked dicey late last week for the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which sits in a small valley about a mile from the fire and which was partly damaged in a wildfire in 2008.
The story of the "fire monks" at the center who have been training in firefighting since that fire 13 years ago has made national news once more, as they've gone into action to defend the monastery and hot springs resort from this fire. Since 2008, the complex has a roof-sprinkler system called "Dharma Rain" that keeps the buildings wet and protects them from igniting in the case of flying embers, and monks remained on site running that system this week and joining crews from the Forest Service in keeping the Willow Fire at bay.
As KPIX reports, the Monterey County Sheriff's Office downgraded some mandatory evacuation orders to warnings as of 5 p.m. Thursday. The orders that were downgraded were for Tassajara Road from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center northwest to China Camp Campground in the Los Padres National Forest, and all areas of Arroyo Seco Road west of Woodtick Canyon.
Evacuation orders remain in place for the area west of Santa Lucia Creek, east of Black Cone Peak, north of the Dolan Fire scar, and south of Tassajara Hot Springs.
Photo courtesy of PG&E