BIG SUR – Firefighters continued Sunday to fight a fire in Monterey County that threatened a historic Zen Buddhist mountain retreat and burned 2,080 acres.
The blaze, named Willow Fire, has been burning on “steep, rugged and bushy terrain” since it ignited in the Ventana Wilderness northwest of the Arroyo Seco recreation area around 8 p.m. Thursday, sending plumes of smoke in the area.
The wildfire was mapped to about 1,600 acres on Saturday, after an initial report that it had reached 2,000 acres on Friday. But on Saturday night, officials from the Los Padres National Forest said he burned about 2,066 acres. This was updated to 2,080 acres on Sunday morning. The fire remains at 0% containment and the cause is under investigation.
Firefighters were bolstering construction of existing lines and bulldozer lines from the 2020 Dolan fire, which burned more than 128,000 acres, destroyed 14 buildings and injured 15.
The US Forest Service said about 452 firefighters were on the ground to fight the blaze with air support, including fixed-wing tankers and water-jetting helicopters.
The fire-retardant lines held up well during the day on Saturday, officials said, minimizing the growth of the blaze as it stood within its perimeter. Labor teams were able to place hand lines in front of the fire in the Arroyo Seco area.
The National Weather Service forecast for the region called for a slight cooling on Sunday, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees.
âI think the most important factor for the firefighting efforts (Sunday) is that it will be another hot day but the air mass is still really, really dry,â said Matt Mehle of the weather service. “So the humidity should hit the low of the teenage years, maybe even the top single digits.”
Cooling will continue at least through the middle of the week, with more clouds moving overnight and better moisture recovery overnight in the coming days.
âAll of these factors will be good for the firefighting efforts on the Willow Fire,â Mehle said.
According to the Monterey County Emergency Services Office, Arroyo Seco Recreation Area has been closed and Tassajara Road has been closed from Zen Tassajara Mountain Center to China Campground. Residents of the monastery were evacuated to the campsite.
Saving the monastery – which is among the oldest Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist monasteries in the United States – was the top priority for firefighters on Saturday.
Other concerns are endangered species and cultural sites. Los Padres National Forest Resource Advisors will work with Chumash Tribe members, biologists and botanists to identify hot spots.
On Sunday morning, we could see plumes of smoke rising towards the Salinas Valley.
Fire crews are establishing base camp in King City and a new incident management team took over Sunday morning.
Herald staff writer Tom Wright contributed to this story.