On December 4, 2017, the Thomas Fire – the largest wildfire in California’s history – burned Baba’s Tree leaving large deposits of ash from the tree.
Ten days later, Cassandra Bramucci emailed, “I'm feeling a sense of urgency to preserve the ashes from the tree as soon as possible - I sense rain will be coming soon.”
The forecast was for rain. But with some luck and planning, it was hoped the group could work around the rain. Despite the weather forecast, Meher Mount went ahead with Restoration Weekend – March 10 & 11, 2018.
It was a good decision. A number of tasks were completed as part of the ongoing recovery from the December 4, 2018 Thomas Fire. And as usual, a few more tasks were added to the "to do" list as a result.
The news coverage started with Perry Van Houten, who had written an earlier article “Ojai’s Trees” for the Winter 2014 edition of The Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, which included Baba’s Tree as one of six trees featured. He approached Meher Mount for a story for a story about Baba's Tree after the Thomas Fire. His article, “Group mounting significant effort to try to save Baba’s Tree,” was published on February 2, 2018, in the Ojai Valley News.
Later, Claudia Boyd-Barrett, an Ojai resident and journalist who had visited Meher Mount before, contacted Meher Mount to set up an interview. She talked with Board President Sam Ervin, Manager/Caretaker Buzz Glasky, arborist Michael Inaba, and Interim Caretaker Cassandra Bramucci. Her story for the Ventura County Star, “Baba's Tree, burned in Thomas Fire, fights for survival in Ojai,” was published on February 18, 2018.
Recovery from the December 2017 Thomas Fire is a step-by-step process. Each completed task seems to generate several new task offspring. The restoration continues.
On February 15, 2018, just as Buzz and Ginger Glasky finished their four-and-a-half years as Manager/Caretakers, former Caretaker Ray Johnston (2002-2005, 2006-2010) arrived for a week to help with the recovery.
The following is a reprint of an article about Baba's Tree and the 2017 Thomas Fire from the Ventura County Star published on February 18, 2018.
That Meher Baba fellow sure knows how to throw a work party!
As I drove up to the entry gate around 9:30 a.m., I found half a dozen people vigorously cultivating the ash-hardened ground under the Coast Live Oak tree there. All were new faces to me, but I was greeted with cheerful waves and a hearty chorus of “Jai Baba.”
So, began the first workday of 2018 in response to the devastating Thomas Fire that so heartrendingly damaged Baba’s Tree, crippled the fragile water system, and sent Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky racing for their lives down a flaming Sulphur Mountain Road on December 4, 2017.
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.
When setting up the first meeting with ISA® Certified Arborist Michael Inaba to make a preliminary assessment of a "special large oak" at Meher Mount, he asked, “Does that special tree have a name?” Margaret Magnus smiled to herself and said, “Yes, Baba’s Tree.” Then she asked why he had asked.
Inaba said he had had dinner soon after the fire with some people who live on Sulphur Mountain. They were recounting the fire damage in the area and mentioned the tree. He later referred to Baba’s Tree as a landmark tree.
On January 5, 2018, Meher Mount met with Inaba to evaluate Baba's Tree and to start drawing up a survival and regeneration plan.
During His Advent, Meher Baba very often would go into a self-imposed, confined seclusion for extended periods of time to do His inner work.
Meher Baba disclosed that he did His “Universal Work” at these times — work not for His own sake as He, suffering for all as God in human form, had nothing to gain — but for the spiritual advancement of all of creation.
Now, the Coast Live Oak at Meher Mount that Meher Baba sat under alone in 1956 and known as Baba’s Tree is in seclusion.
In the efforts to fully record the damage from the December 2017 Thomas Fire, Meher Mount worked with drone photographer Russell Latimer of Eye of Mine Action Cameras.
At the time, it seemed like a slight extravagance. Then again, the fire had stripped the landscape, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to capture not only the damage, but also the stark beauty of the landscape.
See the 34-minute unedited video.
Fire has been a visitor to Baba’s Tree and to Meher Mount more than once. The Thomas Fire shattered the tree’s crown and much of the trunk on December 4, 2017.
On October 14, 1985, fire ravaged and destroyed nearly all Meher Mount. A month after the New Life Fire, Baba’s Tree looked dead. It was black, leafless, and terribly scarred. The main trunk was hollowed out and black inside. Limbs over 30 feet in the air had burned. The great limb above Meher Baba’s seat had burned nearly through by the trunk with its furthermost branches fallen to the earth.
On Tuesday, December 5, 2017, when it was clear that Meher Mount was in the Thomas Fire zone, architect and volunteer Byron Pinckert sent an email suggesting that it was “time now to start thinking about how you want to document this set of events for the future.”
Byron took a giant step toward documentation on Thursday, December 21, 2017, when he went to Meher Mount armed with oversized maps from Google Earth of the property and a camera. He walked the property noting burned areas, damage and other items of importance.
Fire strips away much of nature’s camouflage and reveals the unexpected.
On December 12, 2017, just eight days after the Thomas Fire swept through parts of Meher Mount, Buzz and Ginger Glasky, Cassandra Bramucci, Margaret Magnus and I walked the property marveling at the fire’s path and the fire’s targets.
Surprisingly, Cassandra noticed a small pile of 21 coins, unearthed by the fire, under one of the pine trees at Avatar’s Point. We had no idea how they got there.
On Monday night December 4, 2017, sometime after 10:00 p.m. when Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky evacuated, the Thomas Fire struck Meher Mount.
On December 6 and 8, Buzz and Ginger visited Meher Mount reporting minimal or no damage to structures and vehicles. The water system is out of commission due to the fire damage to pipes, electrical and equipment. Baba’s Tree at Avatar’s Point suffered major damage from wind and fire.
On December 12, Buzz and Ginger, Sam Ervin, Margaret Magnus and Cassandra Bramucci made a follow-up visit. Margaret and Sam share their observations.
As the Thomas Fire raged through Ventura County and burned parts of Meher Mount, well wishers sent their love and prayers.
The largest wildfire in California history, the Thomas Fire, started near (Saint) Thomas Aquinas College, about eight miles from Meher Mount and northwest of the city of Santa Paula, on Monday, December 4, 2017 at 6:26 p.m.
It is clear the fire visited nearly every part of the upper section of Meher Mount. Manager/Caretakers Buzz and Ginger Glasky were amazed at how the fire line seemed to stop at critical points.
In short, the fire brushed pass the buildings and equipment, even touching a trellis at the Visitor Center. Both the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters and the Topa Topa Patio are intact, although smoke damage is not yet known. Baba’s Tree suffered some damage, but its base remained standing. Some additional assessment and repair of the water system is needed.