The following is a reprint of an article about Baba's Tree and the 2017 Thomas Fire from the Ojai Valley News published on February 2, 2018.
BY PERRY VAN HOUTEN
Caretakers of an iconic oak burned in the Thomas Fire are hoping the tree will survive and regenerate, but for now it sits behind a seclusion fence on a hill atop Sulphur Mountain.
Most of Baba's Tree, a massive coast live oak on the property of Meher Mount, 9902 Sulphur Mountain Road, toppled during the fire in December.
The fire consumed the main trunk of the tree and shattered the tree's crown, said Meher Mount President Sam Ervin.
"When I first walked around and under Baba's Tree after the Thomas Fire, I was struck by how shattered much of the tree was, and yet how beautiful even the burned and broken trunk and limbs were," Ervin said. "I saw it almost like a sculpture."
Working with arborist Michael Inaba, Meher Mount has put a care plan in place to create optimal conditions for its survival and regrowth.
A temporary 300-foot seclusion fence has been installed around the perimeter of both the living and fallen parts of the tree, "for its own protection as it tries to survive, and the protection of visitors," Ervin explained.
The fence will protect the ground around the trees so the mulch can do its work without soil compaction caused by foot traffic.
It'll also keep workers and visitors safe from tree debris, branches and roots.
Additionally, a 300-foot irrigation pipe stretching from a reservoir to the tree has been installed.
New buds on some of the limbs are providing encouraging signs of life.
"It shows the that there's still life in those limbs," said Ervin, who first visited Baba's Tree in January 1968, some 50 years ago.
A party of 30 volunteers worked to clear debris and clean up the property Jan. 28, "clearing away fallen parts and dead wood," Ervin said.
"One woman flew in from New York just to help out," he added.
Baba's Tree overlooks the Pacific Ocean from the brow of Sulphur Mountain, 1,200 feet above the Ojai Valley.
Before the giant tree collapsed in the wind-driven flames of the Thomas Fire, it was estimated to be 200 feet in circumference and 75 feet in diameter.
It was named for Avatar Meher Baba (1894-1969), an Indian spiritual master who visited the tree in August 1956.
Estimated to be as old as 300 to 500 years, Baba's Tree was badly burned - but survived - the 1985 [Ferndale] Fire, which destroyed all the buildings at Meher Mount.
"We were pretty amazed at the way it came back," Ervin said.
Meher Mount remains closed to visitors while repairs are made, but Ervin expects to reopen in a couple of months.
A plan to make Baba's Tree safely accesssible to visitors is in the works.
A platform around the tree or fencing are a few of the options, he said.
Donors have created a $7,500 challenge match, which means that every donation made before March 31 will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $7,500.
"The tree is visited and known by people worldwide, and we've had a very positive response, much of it unsolicited, from people who want to help," Ervin stated.
Donations pay for the arborist's help, the fencing and irrigation pipe, the breacing of the tree limbs, and preservaton of the fallend and dead wood.
Some of the larger limbs may be milled and made into visitor benches or other items.
Visit www.mehermount.org for more information or to donate to the tree preservation efforts.
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM
Perry Van Houten, "Group mounting significant effort to try to save Baba's Tree," Ojai Valley News, page A10, Friday, February 2, 2018. (c) Ojai Valley News, Downhome Publishing, LLC.