Monastery evacuated as Big Sur fire spreads

Tuesday, September 21st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LUCIA, Calif. (AP) -- Benedictine monks who maintain a vow of
silence and bake fruitcakes to support their monastery were among
the hundreds forced to flee wildfires that raced up the coastal
mountains of Big Sur.

Eight monks remained behind Tuesday to help firefighters save
their monastery high above the Pacific, the New Camadoli Hermitage,
which is reachable only by a narrow, twisting road and offers
stunning views of the ocean.

Given Big Sur's often-changing winds, firefighters said the
blazes could climb a ridge and sweep down onto the property within

"If it comes up nice and slow, things will be cool. If it comes
up in a firestorm, then things could get interesting," said Irene
Kahn, a volunteer with the Big Sur Fire Department.

Some of the monks who stayed behind were cutting brush, said the
Rev. Romuald Duscher, acting superior for the 32 monks. He does not
maintain a vow of silence. He said felt he had to stay, especially
since some of the monastery's monks are elderly and didn't want to

"This is our home. Also, we feel we can help," Duscher said.

The monks, whose monastery is perched 1,300 feet above the
Pacific about 140 miles south of San Francisco, support a
contemplative life by selling fruitcakes and date-nut cakes over
the Internet.

The monastery also caters to tourists seeking a refuge from the
wired world, and is so popular that reservations have to be made
months in advance.

One of the evacuees, Allison Howard, 33, had planned to spend a
week at the monastery and was forced to flee after just one night.

"I wanted to be there. It's so peaceful and wonderful," said
Ms. Howard, who had hoped for a respite from what she described as
a stressful life in Los Angeles, where she studies acupuncture and
herbal medicine.

Lightning-caused fires have burned more than 78,000 acres in
Northern California's forests in the past few days.

Cooler weather Tuesday helped in the fight against the fires in
the Big Sur area, but conditions were difficult in the Trinity Alps
Wilderness Area in far Northern California, where the nation's
largest active fire -- more than 50,000 acres -- was spreading toward
the Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests.

In Big Sur's Los Padres National Forest, more than 28,000 acres
of oak trees, sage, chaparral and other brush had burned.