Cameron Peak Fire Updates

Cameron Peak Fire Updates

 

October 12, 2020

Dear Friends,

I’d like to start this update with a huge thank you for all of the ongoing support we’ve been receiving. So many forms of support have been coming in, and as we navigate the return and recovery, our efforts and experience are lifted and made lighter. I send you all a deep bow of gratitude.

Since last week’s Town Hall, it’s been a busy time of monitoring evacuation status and the fire overall, digging into details, and articulating questions more than establishing answers.

It has taken time to understand the amount of damage. Deeper analysis of our water, waste water, and electrical power systems will take professional assistance to fully assess, and we have initiated those processes. Discussions with the insurance companies are underway, and while there will be some assistance, we know that it will not cover all of the costs, due to significant wildfire deductibles, some of the older buildings not being insurable, and the insurance being based on dollar limits rather than replacement costs.

Once we are clear on how all of the pieces fit together, we will engage in an overall assessment and establishment of steps towards abatement, nurturing the land back to health, and rebuilding. One helpful factor is that we are almost complete with the two-year process of working with the County on a special review of our master plan. This will allow a carefully developed and environmentally sound plan for rebuilding to be implemented. The success of our Facebook and general fire-fundraising campaign will be enormously helpful with the initial stages, so another huge thank you for that support — our Facebook campaign is around $34,000 from reaching the goal of $108,000, with over 880 individuals having donated!

We are still in mandatory evacuation, but day trips for residents have been possible.The first visit home for many staff was a powerful experience that will take time to understand and digest. My experience of the first trip was of focusing on specific tasks and questions, and I realized after returning down the mountain that the emotional impact had led to focusing on specific buildings and losing the scope  later realizing that at times I didn’t even remember looking to the left or right, given the impact of what I was seeing.

On the second trip up, I focused more on the broader picture and tried to capture that in photos and video. There are some places on the land where you can stand and not see any damage, settling into the feeling of the SMC we all remember. In other places, you’re walking through what was once a vibrant forest and is now a smooth grey surface with even the pinecones and forest duff swept away by the fire, and only cinder remnants of trees casting shadows of contrasting darkness. Our forestry partners will be visiting the land this coming week to conduct a forest assessment and begin building a comprehensive plan on how to nurture the regrowth of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

For the Cameron Peak Fire overall, containment has risen to 47% and the area around SMC is within that containment. The fire continues to provide challenges for our neighbours to the south, in particular around the CSU Mountain Campus near Estes Park. The nearby areas of Crystal Lakes, the town of Red Feather Lakes to the north, and Glacier View to the east have been moved from mandatory to voluntary evacuation status.

In one of the last updates and at the town hall, I mentioned that with the shift from the threat of fire to a post-fire status, I will be decreasing the frequency of these updates. We plan on having a town hall every two weeks for the immediate future, as long as there is interest, and pending significant changes in conditions, we are thinking of a weekly written update that will begin to separate out the areas of activity. I recognize that with so many challenging things going on in the world these days, and with such a painful and divisive election only a matter of weeks away in the US, having a measured and relatable pace of information would be wise.

Finally, below we have posted new photographs to illustrate what I described above, as well as a few videos staff have created. One is of the first visit we made to the land two Fridays ago, taken by the head of our water systems, John Rupe; another is by our gardener, Arli Brundage; and another is a 360 degree circle I took from a promontory up behind Marpa Point.

Thank you all again, and I so look forward to seeing you up on the land as soon as humanly and safely possible.

With love,

Michael

 

 

 

October 3, 2020

Dear Friends,

A small group of SMC staff was able to make a trip up to the land yesterday (Friday 10/2), and we’ve posted some new photos  below.

Additionally, we held a Town Hall meeting this morning, in which Michael Gayner offered a report from the trip up to the land and responded to many questions from the broader SMC community. A recording of that meeting can be viewed here:

View the Town Hall w/ Michael Gayner

Ongoing thanks for being a part of this journey, and please continue to share any questions you may have by emailing us at communications@shambhalamountain.org.

 

We’ll be in touch again soon.

Warmly,

The Shambhala Mountain Center Team

 

 

 

September 30, 2020

Dear Friends,

I know this is a painful time for so many of us, full of uncertainty, and we’ve received a flood of questions. In order to be together and to answer as many questions as we can in a full and transparent manner, we will be holding an online Town Hall this Saturday, October 3 at 11 am, for the entire extended SMC community, which includes you. Please register here.

We encourage you to submit your questions in advance here.

For the last few weeks, as we watched the fire approach, there has been new information everyday that we wanted to share in these update letters. Now, as we move into the slower, longer phase of rebuilding, we will be changing the pace and sending updates only when we have solid new information or new developments to share.

Once again, I want to thank you for your enormous generosity and support during this difficult time. The messages of heartbreak and care, as well as your donations and offers to volunteer, are profoundly reassuring. We will get through this together, as a community. 

 

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

 

September 29, 2020

Dear Friends,

I have received pictures of the buildings we lost in the fire. The pictures are a bit shocking, so rather than sharing through email, we’ve posted them here on our fire updates page (below). We’ve also included a map of the locations since it is difficult from some of the pictures to tell where the buildings are. You can view the photos and map below.

One thing to note is the initial report of the loss of the Maitri Buildings was only half true. One of them was burned to the ground while the other remains intact. This is a huge relief as it gives us something with which to build back. I also know how meaningful those buildings and the years of practice they nurtured are for so many people.

The pictures do not tell the entire story. You will see trees that are charred on one side and green on another. To know how many will survive will take time and forestry professionals to assess. There are other buildings with smoke damage that are not included. As further details and pictures become available, I will share them with you.

So much love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 28, 2020

Dear Friends,

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of love and support. There’s a palpable feeling of being held by so many people, who have been offering help in pretty much every form imaginable. All of it is gratefully received.

As the conditions at SMC clarify and a team can visit the land, I will share pictures and reports—but this may take a while, and it will be longer still before systems like water, sewage, and the kitchen are ready so that staff can safely return to the land. We should have a reasonable degree of clarity on what survived and what was lost within a day, but initial reports are still too tentative to share with confidence, beyond what we included in yesterday’s update.

I want to acknowledge that we are at a turning point. Collectively, we have watched a threat to something precious grow closer, and closer, and finally come to pass. Many of us are grieving, while also turning towards the process of restoring and rebuilding. I am working with the SMC team to navigate this change and see what will be helpful as we go through this together.

So many questions are flowing in, and we want to be able to answer them in a full and transparent manner, without overwhelming you with both the pace and volume of information. To that end, we are planning an online gathering where I can respond to questions, both those sent in advance, and those that arise during the gathering. We’ll send out an email inviting you to submit questions in the next day or two, and we’re aiming to host the online gathering later this week.

There are a few questions that I can answer now, which have a feeling of urgency.

The staff remain evacuated and continue to be housed either through the Red Cross or with friends and family. Some staff lost their homes and possessions in the fire, and SMC will ensure they are taken care of and made whole. It is extraordinarily painful to lose one’s home and to be in exile from the land, but we are gathering on a regular basis, both in person and virtually.

The Stupa is confirmed to be intact, along with the downtown buildings. We will be very careful in how we open buildings and examine possible damage. We are working with experts and with the insurance companies to ensure we do this well.

From folks who do not use Facebook, there have been questions as to ways to contribute financially, aside from our Facebook fundraiser. Donations can be made on our website, and gifts can also be mailed to our land address, as mail is being redirected to a local post office where we pick it up every two days.

Please hold in your hearts and your practice the reality that many of our neighbors remain threatened by the fire, along with so many others who are facing threats from fire and other natural disasters elsewhere. We are exploring ways to help, and recognize that over the years, SMC has not been sufficiently integrated and involved with the local community. We fully intend to explore ways to change this. It has been deeply moving to have received messages from neighbors expressing how much SMC and the Stupa means to them.

There is going to be so much more to share as we move forward. We are humbled and strengthened by all of your caring, and are determined to make you proud to be a part of SMC.

With love and gratitude,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 27, 2020

Dear Friends,

From all of the messages of love and support, I know how eager people are to hear how the fire has impacted SMC. This morning, I spoke with someone who was at SMC last night. I hope to visit the land as soon as possible to confirm details, but for now I can share the following.

He reported that there were many firefighters and trucks on the land, and that so far, only a few buildings had burned. The central area of the lodges, the kitchen and dining rooms and what we call the Sacred Studies Building were intact, along with the buildings one sees upon entering the land: the registration building on your left and “Stupa View” staff housing on your right. He reported that fires had burned along the wooded slopes surrounding SMC and through the center of the land to our little lake, while the trees near the entrance were untouched. He took the photos below of the Stupa intact and the Stupa support building in flames.

All of this represents so much dedication and work on the part of the firefighters and words cannot express how grateful we are to these incredible people. We know that there will be a lot of work when we return to clean up and nurture the land back to health, and we look forward to working with the Forest Service and other entities to ensure our forests and the surrounding lands come back to life. There are concerns that the intensity of the fire might have scorched some of the seed bed, so some areas may take more care and planning than others.

A question has been asked about further danger to the land through increased fire behavior and changes in prevailing winds. While the fire overall is unlikely to be fully out until we have significant and sustained snow, what we know is that the fire came through a corridor between the Kelly Flats Rd., just to the south of SMC, and County Road 68C to the north, taking the path of greatest fuels support for fire. While there is significant work to be done putting out burning and smoldering areas on the land, the paths of greatest danger near SMC appear to have been the paths already taken by the fire.

I want to stress that the details above are as of last night. As you can see from the pictures below, the fire burned through some areas, and left areas of trees, shrubs and grasses. I will share further details was they are confirmed.

Finally, as many of you have asked how you can help, I want to let you know that today we opened a Facebook fundraiser. If you feel inspired to support our rebuilding efforts, we deeply appreciate it, and you can do so here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/668857390679879/

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

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September 26, 2020

Dear Friends,

Thank you for taking this journey with us. I am writing as I listen to a broadcast of the firefighters talking about their work on the land. The fire has reached SMC and the most I can understand is that some structures have survived. The radio exchanges include descriptions of firefighters going to our temple, working with the fire hydrants, and describing the fire having moved to the Scouts Ranch to the east. As details become clearer, I will share them.

This has been a profound journey. The outpouring of love, support, and wisdom has marked me and I’m sure everyone who’s been involved. As we rebuild and rearise to serve, we will do this knowing how many people need SMC. We will welcome you home. It is so clear how fortunate we have been to have met and loved this land, and the responsibility we have to now nurture it back to health.

WIth heartbreak and love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 25, 2020

Dear Friends,

I want to start the update today with an expression of gratitude. As the fires come closer to our collective home, the messages we’ve received from so many of you grow more poignant. Some have shared life moments, lifelong journeys, or reflections on how SMC has provided a place of refuge and rejuvenation; others have offered pure and simple expressions of appreciation and support. All of these messages strengthen our unconditional commitment to returning when possible and rebuilding if necessary.

Today, this was particularly powerful as the high winds pushed the fire into a run toward the major fire break along the Pingree Hill, Manhattan and Deadman Roads, stopping within a quarter mile of the fire break. On the report this evening from the firefighters, they described how they have activated the tens of miles of hoses and pumps along the fire break and are mobilizing resources in preparation for a critical day tomorrow. The winds could gust up to 50 or 60 miles per hour in the area, leading to extremely challenging conditions. They also spoke of how the relative humidity, temperatures, and winds should all drop after tomorrow, and with that will come some chance of rain.

This weekend could see a number of results, including holding the line at the fire break; if the fire jumps the break, holding the fire front in the better terrain between SMC and the fire; or, seeing fire finally reach SMC. The firefighters also stressed the work they’ve put into restricting fires around “values at risk,” meaning structures such as our Stupa, lodges, and the various outbuildings. To be clear, holding the fire away from SMC this weekend will not mean the fire is contained. It will mean easier conditions arriving for containment. Please hold the firefighters and SMC in your hearts and practice this weekend, along with all beings. And whatever happens, these words from a message we received today can serve as a reference for us all: “…How it will guide you to guide others gracefully through collective experiences of loss and uncertainty and displacement is profound. What a training you are receiving! Deep, whole, generously groundless blessings…”.

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 24, 2020

Dear Friends,

The situation is growing more challenging with the Cameron Peak Fire today. While much of the fire perimeter is slowly being brought under control, the mile or two of critical fire front on the southern portion of the eastern tip of the ’thumb’ directly west of SMC cannot be worked directly due to the inaccessibility and the danger to the firefighters. With the winds and terrain pushing the fire southeast and then to the east, it’s lining up with a potential trajectory toward SMC.

That said, it is far from a given that it will cross the main fire break, and there are areas between the fire front and SMC that have been worked with fire mitigation efforts over the past years including mechanical removal of trees from overly dense areas, as well as controlled burns. Combined with the past and present work on fire mitigation at SMC, even if the fire does make it to SMC, there is much that will likely remain safe and intact.

Acknowledging that the threat to SMC is growing and real is quite painful. SMC is a physical home to some of us, has been home for many, and is a spiritual home, even described as a spiritual birthplace, for thousands and thousands of people. This has been made clear in so many of the emails we’ve received. I want you to know that regardless of what happens, SMC will remain to fulfill our mission, and after whatever cleaning up, restoring and caring for the land is needed, we will be there ready to welcome you home when the pandemic allows.

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 23, 2020

Dear Friends,

It’s challenging to send an update today, as the changes that impact SMC are on a level of detail that require a map and live-time description of activities and conditions. Fortunately, for that purpose the update this morning from Cory Carlson, the Planning Operations Trainee, provides just that. For those who would like to follow that level of detail, here is a link to the Facebook page where his report can be viewed: https://www.facebook.com/CameronPeakFire/videos.

In a nutshell, progress is being made overall around the fire, with containment having increased to 17%. Challenges have been encountered along the Highway 14 corridor, but they feel good about being able to hold that line. The “thumb” directly west of SMC remains a significant challenge, and the fire edge is now approximately five miles west of SMC. Portions of the fire front are being accessed, but particularly along the southern edge, remain in challenging terrain that is hard to access. Weather conditions, particularly winds, will be a determining factor over the coming five days. Significant resources continue to be brought to bear on the “thumb,” including air tankers and new hotshot crews.

All SMC residential staff are currently being housed off land, mostly in or near Fort Collins, and group practice as well as outdoor gatherings are being held and planned. We are assessing the known and potential impacts on SMC of having no one on land for systems such as water and wastewater treatment. We are also assessing the financial impact on SMC from the revenue losses and expenses of the evacuation, and building contingency plans for a range of possible outcomes.

We have weathered many challenges over the years, and we will get through this challenge as well. I can say that in my heart, I know this to be true. The stream of emails expressing love and support, as well as the need for SMC in people’s lives, continues to ground this confidence—regardless of the outcome of the fire.

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 22, 2020

Dear Friends,

The news from SMC is mixed today. The evacuated staff are being well supported through the sangha and the Red Cross, and we’ve had a zoom meeting and a gathering at the Fort Collins Shambhala Center to check in and simply be together. It’s an amazing group of people, and coming together virtually and physically has been heartwarming and grounding. The folks in the Fort Collins community have been exemplary as has the Red Cross. We’ve set up additional support for any staff person who needs it. Our hearts remain at SMC, and we are longing to return to the land, just as I know so many people are.

With the fire, the thumb closest to SMC remains active and throwing out spots. This causes the firefighters to have to pull back, address the new spot fires, and only then return to working on the fire edge. Strong winds can throw the sparks and embers as far as a mile out in very gusty conditions. This week, the winds aren’t predicted to be too strong, but there is concern about stronger winds over the coming weekend. The firefighters are using this week to put in additional bulldozer lines, further expand the existing main fire break along the Pingree Hill, Manhattan and Deadman Roads, and work the direct front of the fire whenever and wherever they can.

While I can’t provide definitive reassurance regarding the fire, I can say that the firefighters are using every means at their disposal, including the three recently allocated large aircraft that dump thousands of gallons of water per flight. As shared in earlier posts, they continue to carry out extensive fire protection around buildings such as homes and our lodges through external sprinkler systems and the large portable water containers or “pumpkins” that have been placed near structures. Elsewhere on the fire perimeter, the news is increasingly good, which is wonderful for our human plant and animal neighbours, and with those improvements, further resources are able to be focused on the “thumb”.

One thing the fire has reinforced for us is the commitment to building further connections with the surrounding community. The courage and selflessness of the fire-fighters—a mix of local teams and teams from quite far away—the generous and impressively efficient Red Cross workers, and the support from Larimer County staff has underlined how connected and reliant we are. While the evacuation means we’re temporarily not able to continue providing fresh produce from our garden to the local food banks, in a couple of weeks, we are piloting an online meditation and movement program for County employees. I look forward to finding more ways to express our gratitude and interdependence. For me, this is resonant with our work in bringing our forests back to health and establishing a clear path towards environmentally sound standards such as net zero energy use standards. With everything going on in the world these days, recognizing, celebrating and supporting interdependence has simply become the only sane choice.

With love and mountains of appreciation,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 21, 2020

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, SMC went into mandatory evacuation. The combination of wind and poor terrain conditions tipped the scale, and the fire crossed the Killpecker line and is now approximately 6 miles from our land. The major fire break that begins at Highway 14 and follows Pingree Hill, Manhattan and Deadman roads, remains between SMC, the town of Red Feather Lakes and the fire front.

The staff have evacuated and are staying down the mountain in a mixture of sangha, friends and relatives’ homes, with a good number staying in hotels generously provided by the Red Cross. There were three staff members who remained overnight and are leaving this morning.

The fire settled as evening came on, and the good news is that the terrain into which the fire moved is more accessible to the fire fighters and there is a slight chance of some helpful rain today and tomorrow. From your emails, it is so clear how much SMC means to so many people. I will send updates as things become clearer, at least once a day.

With love and deep appreciation for all of the care and support,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 20, 2020

Dear Friends,

The fire is now at 15% containment and the firefighters are valiantly slogging through dense forest and rugged mountain terrain to increase the containment level. That 15% is the entirety of the eastern edge of the fire, south of Highway 14 and the Poudre River, and a smaller strip along the western edge. The highway 14 corridor remains relatively stable, but hot spots remain with occasional fire activity.

Overall, there is a sense of optimism that the containment will grow, The “thumb” —which includes the fire perimeter directly west of SMC—continues to be the most problematic section, with access to the fire edge challenging and a slight increase in winds causing embers to fly up to 100 yards from hot spots and torching trees into new areas in the direction of Red Feather Lakes and SMC. This forces the firefighters to focus on those new spots to ensure they don’t cause the fire to spread.

The thumb is the main focus of the approximately 1,300 firefighters presently working on the fire. Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters continue to dump fire retardant and water on the fire, and over the past five days, the drone and chop of these aircraft have become as much a part of the aural landscape of SMC as the wind through the forests.

Firefighters have visited the land, and will be delivering tanks of water (called pumpkins) along with sprinkler systems for buildings. The depth of protection they have created is impressive and expressed in the acronym PACE.

PACE stands for Primary plan, Alternate plan, Contingency plan, Emergency plan. The primary is working the edge of the fire, alternative is the Killpecker line that crosses north to south and comes close to the thumb’s fire edge, the contingency is the Pingree Hill and Manhattan Roads, and then the emergency plan includes the kinds of fire protection embodied in the pumpkins and sprinkler systems spread through the surrounding communities combined with evacuation procedures and further line work.

This is the first time I’ve seen such depth of fire protection and serves as a powerful antidote to the feelings of anxiety and powerlessness that can arise in the face of natural disasters. Combined with SMC’s ongoing forestry work and the more recent mitigation and safety work—such as weed whacking around propane tanks, storing art work and other valuables, and being clear on our fire and evacuation procedures—we remain prepared for any eventuality.

This coming week, I’ll share more regarding SMC’s forestry and environmental work in general, including steps taken and steps embedded in our master planning. And as always, if you have questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

With love and a longing to welcome you home to our mountain valley,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 15, 2020

Dear Friends,

It has now been a week since the fire increased in acreage. A week ago, the snow event brought the dramatic surge in the fire to a halt, and since then, the firefighters have been able to work on the fire edge along a significant portion of the perimeter. In particular, the area south of Highway 14 and along the eastern perimeter where the fire has met or is close to the High Park Fire regrowth is considered to be increasingly stable. This has allowed for the cancellation of the voluntary evacuation status for Glacier View, the neighborhood immediately to our east and directly north of that edge. This is good news, and the firefighters indicated that they’re hoping for containment in that area in the coming days.

At the same time, at the “thumb,” which is what the firefighters are calling the section of the fire that spread north of the Poudre River, significant work has been carried out connecting fire breaks along the western and northwestern edges. The northern portion of the thumb is around seven or eight miles directly to the west of SMC. Along the northeastern area of it, on the other side of the Killpecker firebreak, there are a few hot spots that show up on satellite heat detectors, indicating moderate fire activity. Because of the firefighters’ growing confidence regarding other areas of the fire, they have shifted significant resources to address these hotspots, and helicopters have been flying over SMC throughout yesterday and today, delivering fire retardant and water.

I recognize that the above description can be a bit confusing with directions and areas of activity, so if anyone wants to ground this with a map and live description, here is a link to this morning’s presentation by Cory Carlson, a Planning Operations Trainee. In the presentation, he reviews in detail the work being done and where the challenges lie. Cory is a good speaker, and I found his calm and professional confidence to be comforting.

My understanding is that the coming days will be telling, with possibilities of containment growing and with the linking of firebreaks along the edges of the thumb and other areas of concern. Full containment of the entire fire is still some time away, as areas in the southern perimeter of the fire in particular are simply inaccessible.

With love and deep appreciation for all of your support,

Michael

Michael Gayner

Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 12, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are back into summer here at SMC, so much so that in the immediate area of our valley, one wouldn’t know there’s a fire so near. The skies are a deep crystal blue with specks of clouds, the snow has melted, and the leaves and grasses that had frozen solid are moving in a gentle wind with no hint of smoke. The moisture from the snow is still impeding the fire’s growth, and there has been no expansion of the fire perimeter since Monday night.

The fire remains only 4% contained with some areas of the perimeter still under snow, such as the high tundra where the fire stopped to the south, or in steep valleys where the sun has limited access and temperatures remain low during the day. The northern ’thumb’ of the fire which is due west of SMC remains one of the areas of highest concern, as direct action on the fire line there is difficult due to inhospitable terrain.

The command leadership of the fire has transitioned, as happens regularly to give the hard-working firefighters some time to rest. In the last briefing, the new leadership has indicated that they are turning to a surge approach now that more direct work on the fire line is possible over much of the fire edge. Along the edge of the northern thumb, however, that is not possible. So in that area they are strengthening the secondary lines closer in to the fire front. That means that west of SMC, the first line is the well-developed road system that runs from Highway 14 in the Poudre River canyon up Pingree Hill and then connects via Manhattan Roads to Red Feather. The second line is called the Killpecker line and brings together small back-country roads and cut-lines. This secondary line is relatively close to the fire front.

All in all, there’s a sense of tentative optimism. The conditions that drove the massive increase of the fire last Saturday through Monday were the result of high winds, low relative humidity, and hot, dry weather in areas that have been in drought since the middle of the summer. Forecasts for the foreseeable future indicate higher relative humidity, lower temperatures, and the undergrowth and trees not fully drying out for until early this coming week. These factors combine with moderate winds that are also predicted for the foreseeable future.

I just can’t finish this email, sharing the tentative but palpable sense of optimism, without saying something about the similarities and the striking contrast with the tragedies happening elsewhere. For those of us who have been on this roller coast here at SMC, where we can now see the possibility of keeping the land safe, there is a sense of connection and empathy for those nearby who have lost homes, and for surrounding forests, and for the deepening horrors unfolding on the West Coast. I have friends reading this update who live in those conflagrations, and I know many people receiving this live or have friends and family there. Please join me in sending love and aspirations for a speedy end and recovery, and in an adamantine commitment to doing whatever we can to address the many causes and conditions that have led to our earth being so out of balance.

With love,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 10, 2020

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to you from inside a cloud that’s descended on SMC. The moisture is much appreciated, as are the 8 to 12 inches of snow that fell over the 102,000 acres of the fire as well as here at SMC and in surrounding areas. The reprieve, due to all of this moisture, is giving the firefighters an opportunity to reassess their tactics regarding how they fight the fire.

Of particular concern for SMC is the finger that spread north from the fire and is now directly to our west. It’s about 6 miles away and is on the other side of the major fire break along the Pingree Hill and Manhattan Roads. The moisture and possible rain and snow will continue through Friday, providing opportunities for firefighters to establish a fire break between the fire and the Pingree Hill / Manhattan Road line.

A few things are important to know. The first is that while extremely helpful, 8 to 12 inches of snow is only equivalent to around one inch of rainfall. Firefighters say that it typically takes two or even three such weather events to fully extinguish a fire of this intensity. There are still embers smoldering under layers of standing and fallen trees and underbrush. That’s the unfortunate news. The good news is that the weather is helping firefighters to access the front of the fire along the Poudre River / Highway 14 corridor, and expand fire breaks. Warm, sunny weather and moderate winds blowing from the west starting this Saturday mean that we are not yet out of danger.

We remain in voluntary evacuation status, and the prediction is that this will remain for another five days or so, depending on fire behavior. Beyond that, it is simply impossible to tell.

If you have specific questions as to how the fire is impacting SMC, please reply to this email and I’ll do my best to respond in future updates. In the meantime, thank you again and again for all of the emails and messages of support that continue to arrive. It feels like we’re all in this together. And if you are including SMC in your practice and in your heart, please also hold the rest of the Western U.S., where devastating fires are burning, in some cases with greater destruction, injuries, and loss of life than the Cameron Peak Fire.

With love and appreciation,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

September 8, 2020

Dear Friends,

Well, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. Today, we woke up to snow, and there’s more to come. Wet and cloudy weather is predicted to continue off and on through Friday. It’s still unclear how much snow and rain we’ll get, and how much that will impact the fire, but it has slowed or stopped the spread. It will also allow the firefighters to make use of other factors, such as greater accessibility to the Poudre River and areas to the southeast across the Poudre River, where the fire has run into the regrowth from the 2012 High Park Fire. Regrowth areas allow firefighters to make better use of moist conditions, as it contains less dense undergrowth and none of the highly combustible beetle-kill trees.

Yesterday, a mandatory evacuation was declared for SMC and areas further east. Heat, high winds, and relative humidity of 9% had caused the fire to spread significantly to over 102,000 acres. We met with staff to let them know that we were accelerating the plan (vetted with the firefighters): going down to a core group of five who would stay to carry out final fire mitigation and battening down infrastructure, as we had in 2012. This morning, we met again to lay out timelines for departure today and confirm the core group who would remain. That core group would then leave SMC within a day or two, while the snow and rain was continuing to impede the fire.

Mid-morning today, we were informed that the mandatory evacuation has returned to voluntary. So for now, we are remaining on the land, while continuing to make it clear to everyone here that there is housing available thanks to our friends in Fort Collins and Boulder, and, as has been the case since the beginning, if anyone wants to leave, they are encouraged to do so.

We are definitely not yet through this, and remain on alert. We have decided to adjust our plans, and going forward, in the case of a mandatory evacuation, we will immediately go down to the core group of five, with the understanding that depending on conditions, we may decide that everyone including the core group leave immediately.

I’ve been informed by people all over the world that they’ve been carrying out a plethora of rain and snow dances, offerings, chants, sadhanas, prayers and more. Given that this winter storm is breaking some records, these practices and the good intentions are having an impact. So, from the bottom of my heart and the top of Marpa Point, I send my profound gratitude and a deep bow of thanks to all of you!

Warm wishes from chilly mountains,

Michael

Snow!

Photo by Michael Gayner

 

September 7, 2020

Dear Friends,

The past two days and today have been red flag warning days. The fire grew significantly, and is probably now over 60,000 acres as it was over 59,000 this morning. Winds are high, gusting to 40 mph, relative humidity is seeing a low of 8—which is very low—and it is still hot up around the fire. The furthest eastern edge of the fire is now to the south of SMC, on the other side of the Poudre River. SMC is also now in a voluntary evacuation zone, with more mandatory evacuation zones having been established nearby.

Rain, snow, and below-freezing temperatures are predicted to start tonight, with the bulk of the storm hitting on Tuesday. If anyone has rain or snow practices, now would be a great time to focus on SMC—we could do with a Rain of Blessings, so to speak…

We will keep you updated over the coming critical days. While it is impossible to know, the amount of snow presently predicted would not be enough to put out the fire. However, it will have a significant impact and help get us to milder weather with lighter winds later this week. And there’s always a chance that the amount of snow predicted will be exceeded; in the past we’ve had snow event predictions similar to the presently predicted 7 to 15 inches, and then received over two feet.

As always, thank you so much for all of the love and care. Below is this morning’s message to the SMC community from our ever-stalwart Rusung Tseten Zalichin, who has gone beyond being simply our rock and has become a mountain of strength for all of us here at SMC.

With love from the mountains,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

———

Good morning Mountain Sangha,

Fire Update:

  • The Cameron Peak Fire is reported at 59,000 + acres with 5% containment.
  • SMC is currently in a Voluntary Evacuation Zone.
  • There are no new reported road closures that might affect egress from SMC to Fort Collins.
  • The 74E/68C [Boyscout Road] checkpoint now applies to residents of SMC.
  • For those who are interested in leaving during a Voluntary Evacuation and are in need of Coordinated Housing, please contact myself and Marsha.
  • For those who are planning on leaving and have Coordinated Housing, please communicate your plans to me by email.
  • If you are planning on leaving and returning to SMC for a day trip, please carry your Residency Credentials.
  • If you plan on leaving and returning to SMC, please keep in mind that the Voluntary status might change to Mandatory, which could lead to difficulties in re-entering 68C through the checkpoint.
  • If, in the event SMC’s Evacuation status changes to Mandatory, please plan on meeting in the picnic area of the downtown. We will provide updates on whether our status changes and provide times to meet through email and other means of communication.
  • We are currently not hosting any Day-visitors or Guests at SMC. My apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.
  • Please keep me informed of your travel and hiking plans.
  • Air Quality has significantly worsened since last reported.
  • Please limit outside exposure to mealtimes.
  • We are expecting higher levels of precipitation and humidity in the coming days, with a possibility of snow and rain in the next 24 hours.

Thank you everyone for keeping me informed of your travel plans and being just generally helpful and great.

With Care,

Tseten Zalichin

image

Photo by Miles Greenlee

 

September 6, 2020

Dear Friends,

The situation with the Cameron Peak Fire near SMC has changed over the past 48 hours. Significant winds and record high temperatures continuing today have increased the spread of the fire, which is now at over 34,000 acres, an increase of approximately 10,000 acres since Friday. The forecast for Monday shows high temperatures and more gusty winds, conditions that support fire growth.

The good news is that on Tuesday September 8th, the prediction is for a winter storm with temperatures below freezing along with 5 to 8 inches of snow. Cold temperatures and clouds will continue through Wednesday and Thursday of next week. It says a lot that we are celebrating the possibility of a winter storm in early September!

The spread of the fire has caused an increase to the mandatory and voluntary evacuation zones. SMC remains outside of both of these zones, although the extended voluntary evacuation zone is slightly less than two miles from SMC. To view a good map with the evacuation zones, please go to :

https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1LZ4lxWoZRVCYIzOvN2O9HoXidcmZJVvz&ll=40.73818216854815%2C-105.52284617175775&z=12

If you center the map on the lower part of the middle of the ’new voluntary evacuation’ zone, and then zoom in, a marker will appear with ’Shambhala Mountain Center’ in text. The lower point of the marker locates the downtown area of SMC.

The prevailing winds have kept the worst of the smoke away from SMC, while not all of it. For a fairly dramatic visual of this, please see the picture below, taken from the eastern edge of the land, down-slope from Marpa point, the rocky outcropping most visible from our downtown area. You can see how the prevailing winds are blowing the smoke in an easterly direction from the fire, while staying just south of SMC.

Our plans for voluntary and mandatory evacuation are ready and have been coordinated with the Emergency Services. The Firefighters who inspected the land reported that with our preparations, plans, and the work carried out on the forest, we are further ahead on fire preparedness than they had even hoped and we have continued with steps such as weed-whacking around propane tanks and buildings.

The Firefighters continue to take around 3,000 gallons of water per day to provide potable water for their base camp next door on the Scout land. And we continue to be optimistic that the incredible work the Firefighters have carried out in establishing robust fire breaks between SMC and the fire will protect the land. Your support and care sent through prayers, aspirations, emails and material assistance is deeply appreciated, and only increases our longing to see you all up here when circumstances permit!

With love and appreciation,

Michael

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

——-

And here’s this morning’s update from our inimitable Rusung, Tseten Zalichin:

Hello Mountain Sangha,

Fire Update:

  • As of this morning the Cameron Peak fire is reported at 34,300+ acres with 6% containment.
  • Mandatory/Voluntary Evacuation Zones have changed since last reported.
  • There are new Voluntary Evacuation Zones that have expanded to our west, northwest, and south. [More information here: https://nocoalert.org/]
  • This morning the National Guard Set up a Check-point at the 74E/68C [Boy Scout Road Intersection].
  • The Checkpoint as of 10:00AM this morning was established for residents in the Red Feather Lakes Village area (not SMC residents), who are currently under Voluntary Evacuation.
  • There is a possibility that the Checkpoint will apply for residents on 68C (Shambhala Mountain Center).
  • If you are planning on leaving and returning to SMC property, please carry your Residency Credentials.
  • If you are planning on leaving and returning to SMC property, please inform me of your plans.
  • There is a possibility that a Voluntary Evacuation Order may be issued today for SMC.
  • As of 10:00AM this morning SMC remains outside of Mandatory/Voluntary Evacuation Zones.
  • At this time, SMC is not able to host guests or day visitors. I’m sincerely sorry if this causes any confusion or inconvenience.
  • Air Quality is reported at a 72 AQI (Air Quality Index). [information available here: https://www.airnow.gov/?city=Red%20Feather%20Lakes&state=CO&country=USA]
  • We recommend limiting outside exposure to mealtimes.
  • Please check your email throughout the day for updates.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

I very much appreciate everyone’s support during this time of deep uncertainty.

Care and courage,

Tseten Zalichin

image

Taken from the eastern edge of the land, down-slope from Marpa point. You can see how the prevailing winds are blowing the smoke in an easterly direction from the fire, while staying just south of SMC.

image

And here are a some Staff members expressing their appreciation for the Firefighters incredible work. (They only came close together for the photo.) Sign by Danny Boyce and Tseten Zalichin

Photos by Michael Gayner

 

August 31, 2020

Dear Friends,

In this email, I’d like to provide an overview of what we know about the fire and what we can predict.

We know that this fire is going to be with us for a while. The location is challenging on many levels: it’s at around 9,500 feet in altitude, there are complex fuel types including significant amounts of beetle kill, lots of fallen logs as well as mixed ground cover, all on rugged, convoluted and steep terrain. This has a number of impacts.

The first is that it is neither safe nor effective to attempt to fight the fire directly on the line, as the danger to fire fighters would be high, and their ability to impact the full fire front is limited. (With the reality of mountainous terrain, the full fire front amounts to a perimeter of hundreds of miles.) The fire grows through fingers and sparks that create sudden leaps, which could also prove extremely dangerous.

The second impact is that even with rain such as we experienced over the weekend, with precipitation landing directly on the fire, while flames may be put out, the fallen trees and other ground cover provide dry spots where the embers are protected, awaiting dry conditions and wind to begin burning again.

Despite these challenges, the fire is still what is called “full suppression”, meaning that they do not intend to simply let the fire burn. They have established lines to the north and east where they have invested significant time and resources establishing a perimeter which they feel would be able to stop the fire if it reaches those lines. The lines are all visible on the maps provided by the fire service. In addition to websites I shared in an earlier email, this is a good site for information: https://nifc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=821eb2bac47c48c69558075f21365f01. You can see from the maps that the containment lines are between SMC and the fire, and have been built to protect as many of the communities and homes in the area as possible.

As these lines are either complete or a day or two from being complete, the fire fighters are shifting resources to look for and develop fire breaks closer to the fire front.

Having been through a number of fire events that have affected SMC over the past ten years, I had some expectation that the fire could be contained within three to four weeks. The High Park Fire of 2012, which led to an evacuation and burned 87,000 acres, took the better part of a month to contain. Other fires have been put out immediately or within a week. This fire is proving difficult to predict, due to the low amount of rain, difficult terrain and ground cover, occasional high winds, and the pre-existing dryness of the forest from a summer that lacked rainfall. It is possible that the fire may even be largely contained this fall, but not fully contained or extinguished until snow covers the ground.

Needless to say, this presents significant challenges for the communities in the area, and specifically for SMC. We are working hard to understand, predict, and mitigate the impact on SMC, to ensure we survive the pandemic to arrive at our projected reopening next year. And at the same time, we are using this period to meet the larger cultural moment in the world. I can share more on both of these topics in the weeks to come.

One message I hope is clear is that there is not an immediate danger to SMC, and we remain reasonably confident that the fire will not reach our land. I will continue to send out updates over the weeks to come. If you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to let us know and I can focus future updates on these questions.

And at the same time, there is incredible beauty. The love and appreciation from the communities around the fire for the firefighters is enough to bring you to tears. The selflessness of the crews is inspiring. And every day brings sights, from the simple beauty of does and fawns roaming the land, to moose families, to orange suns through smoky days and dramatic smoke formations, and when the smoke clears, those crystal skies we all remember. Here are a few images taken by staff, and below is this morning’s daily report to the community from our stalwart Rusung, Tseten Zalichin.

With love from the mountains,

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

————————————————–

Good morning Community,

Fire update:

  • Cameron Peak Fire is currently reported at 23,000+ acres with 0% containment.
  • There are no new reported Mandatory/Voluntary Evacuation Zone Changes.
  • SMC remains outside of either Mandatory/Voluntary Evacuation Zones.
  • There are no new reported road closures.
  • Air Quality has continued to improve for Red Feather Lakes.
  • Please continue to inform me of your travel from SMC and please confirm your return to SMC property.

Attention New Arrivals – Post Evacuation Residency Credentialing:

Please see link for information:

https://member.everbridge.net/892807736722338/notif/fxYYYNP8p

Please contact me if you are in need of a credential.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

With Care and Lungta,

Tseten Zalichin

 

image

Photo by Miles Greenlee

image

Photo by Miles Greenlee

image

Photo by John Rupe

August 25, 2020

Dear Friends,

Today, I want to provide some updates on the fires near SMC, and answer some questions that have been coming in.

The first question is in regard to protecting the Stupa, sacred objects, and buildings at SMC.

There is a plan in place to button up the Stupa to protect the interior and the objects within, as well as the windows. The building itself is the most fireproof on the land and is where we would store other sacred objects from around the land. We will begin the process of gathering items for storage and placing the protective coverings once a formal voluntary evacuation is declared. So far, we remain outside of the voluntary and mandatory evacuation areas.

In regard to the rest of the land, due to the forestry work carried out in 2018 that thinned much of the forests in the northern two thirds of the land, the trees are healthier and the forest more resilient. Based on recommendations from the local fire department, we are trimming grasses and bushes around propane tanks and buildings. Further work will be carried out in the case of a formal voluntary evacuation.

The firefighters have also established a hand line (a two to three foot wide swath of cleared land) around the Red Feather campus on the east side of SMC. Brush has also been removed from around the Kami Shrine, also on the east side of the land.

SMC has initiated an informal voluntary evacuation, with any staff or guests wanting to leave the land having left, and housing for those in need being organized and provided by the incredible folks in the Fort Collins Shambhala community, which for those who don’t know the local area is an hour away, just down the mountain from SMC.

The second question is in regard to our evacuation plans.

We have an established team of folks who will remain on the land in the case of a voluntary or a mandatory evacuation, to carry out further fire mitigation and to ensure our systems such as water and wastewater continue to function. These systems can be delicate, so to the best of our ability, we want to continue to maintain good functioning. This plan has been discussed with the local fire authorities, who understand our needs and have approved of the plan. Internally, we have triggers for when this group would leave the land based on air quality, fire proximity, and road access. We have been very clear with folks that no one needs to stay, and if anything, we’re having to say “no” to some folks who want to remain.

The third question has been about our support for the emergency response teams fighting the fire.

We are presently providing between 3,000 and 6,000 gallons of potable water to the emergency response teams who have set up camp on the Boy Scouts’ land next door. We’ve also offered use of our facilities and fresh produce from our gardens.They’re doing incredible work, and we want to support them in any way we can.

Please let me know if there are questions or concerns about any of the topics above, or if anything is unclear. The Cameron Peak fire remains over ten miles away from SMC, and the major fire breaks that the crews have built are to the south and east of SMC. The consensus remains that the fire will not reach SMC.

Over the weekend, a second fire (the Lewstone Fire) started to the south, across the Poudre River from SMC, near the junction of Highway 14 and Highway 287. This fire is in more easily accessed terrain and is already 65% contained.

It is still impossible to know how long it will take to contain the Cameron Peak fire and if formal evacuation will be declared for our area. We have some rain predicted for this week, along with cooler temperatures which will help. Weather and completion of the anchor line fire breaks further out will provide opportunities for fighting closer in the front of the fire.

Thank you for all of the messages of support that continue to come in, and please continue to send any questions you might have. While the fire has added an additional level of challenge to an already challenging year, we’re confident that we will make it through and long for the time when we can hear the sounds of people and programs on the land.

Finally, below is the message that went out to staff today from our Rusung, Tseten Zalichin, who has been a rock. And he rocks.

With love from the mountains,

Michael Gayner

Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

————————————————–

Good morning Community,

Update:

  • Cameron Peak Fire is currently reported at 20,100+ acres with 0% containment.
  • Lewstone Fire is reported at 160+ Acres with 65% containment.
  • There are no changes to the Mandatory or Voluntary Evacuation Zones.
  • SMC remains outside of either Mandatory or Voluntary Evacuation Zones.
  • SMC has issued a Voluntary Evacuation for our residents.
  • Air quality remains in the same ‘unhealthy’ range as previously reported yesterday, please limit outdoor exposure to meal times.
  • This morning, our local Volunteer Fire Chief will be visiting the land to consult with SMC on fire mitigation.
  • SMC has already begun fire mitigation work.
  • Please continue to communicate your travel and hiking plans.
  • Please also confirm your return to SMC.Thanks to everyone for your continued cooperation and work to support the safety of SMC.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Warmly,

Tseten Zalichin

 

 

August 21, 2020

Dear Friends,

Thank you for all of the messages of support and care that we’ve received since the Cameron Peak fire began. The offers of refuge for residents, to come up and assist with fire mitigation, to practice for us and simply expressing love and appreciation for SMC have demonstrated just how much SMC means to people nearby and as far away as Europe and the South Pacific.

At this point, having thoroughly prepared for possible voluntary or mandatory evacuation, there’s a feeling of the calm before the storm. The fire continues to grow and given the challenges to firefighters in the terrain around the fire, it is likely to continue to grow for some time. How long is impossible to know, but for those who are interested in the most up-to-date information, the following link is to a facebook page where there are twice daily reports from the firefighters: https://www.facebook.com/watch/CameronPeakFire/. The reports typically come out at 8am MT and 5:30pm MT.

The following links are to maps that provide detailed information:

For the evacuation zones: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1LZ4lxWoZRVCYIzOvN2O9HoXidcmZJVvz&ll=40.67800841151571%2C-105.66169576082771&z=10

For terrain and fire spread: https://mappingsupport.com/p2/gissurfer.php?center=40.609000,-105.879000&zoom=12&basemap=ESRI_scanned_topo_USA&overlay=VIIRS_24_hours,MODIS_24_hours&txtfile=https://mappingsupport.com/p2/special_maps/disaster/USA_wildland_fire.txt

Starting next week, SMC will begin sending out regular reports on conditions and activities on the land. While this will vary depending on the workload, we’re aiming at a report every few days. If you have questions, please do send them along and we’ll do our best to provide answers in our reports.

Below are key details from today’s report to residents of SMC from our indomitable Rusung, Tseten Zalichin:

————————————————————–

Good morning,

I hope this finds everyone well.

Update:

  • The current reported acreage of the Cameron Peak Fire is 16,500+ acres with 0% containment.
  • There is an air quality alert for Northern Colorado – please limit outside exposure to meal times.
  • As of this morning SMC remains outside of Mandatory or Voluntary evacuation zones.
  • There remains a strong possibility that a Voluntary Evacuation will be established in the near future.
  • Please continue to inform me of your travel/hiking plans. ***Update: Please also confirm your return to SMC property.

Care and courage,

Tseten

————————————————————

Thank you again for all of your love and support, and I look forward to welcoming you and the rest of the world back to our land when conditions allow.

With love from the mountains,

Michael Gayner
Executive Director | Shambhala Mountain Center

 

 

August 16, 2020

Good Morning Friends,

Fire Update:

  • As of this morning the fire has grown to 10,800+ Acres with 0% containment.
  • Large Air Tankers [LAT] and Very Large Air Tankers [VLAT] were recently deployed and are currently working on the eastern front of the fire line (the edge of the fire closest to SMC).
  • The Mandatory and Voluntary Evacuation Zones for SMC have not changed.
  • SMC remains outside of both the current Mandatory and Voluntary Evacuation Zones.
  • The current distance of the fire from the SMC Downtown is approximately 17 miles.
  • Front Range leadership have secured housing for the 45 residents at SMC.
  • Our Land Evacuation Response Team is prepared and feels confident in our ability to respond to this challenging situation.

We are all very touched by your outpouring of support. The gratitude we feel towards our Front Range Community is inexpressible.

Please keep us in your hearts and practice.

With warmth and courage,

Tseten Zalichin
Rusung of Shambhala Mountain Center

 

 

August 14, 2020

Dear Friends,

Some of you may have heard about the Cameron Peak Fire that’s happening 25 miles to the southwest of Shambhala Mountain Center. Right now, there is a Mandatory Evacuation Zone 2.5 miles to our west and a Voluntary Evacuation Zone 2 miles to our south. (Voluntary Evacuation Zones are typically established in areas where the smoke particulate concentrations might affect people with respiratory issues.) Link to evacuation zones here: https://nocoalert.org/

In our last communication with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, it was expressed to us that there is a small likelihood that the Cameron Peak fire will reach SMC. However, in preparation for a potential evacuation, we have reached out to Front Range Shambhala community leaders and are in the process of coordinating housing accomodations for the 45 staff and guests who are currently on SMC land.

We will continue to provide periodic updates as information becomes available.

With care,

Tseten Zalichin
SMC Rusung