Gomde UK

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The 'Fire Enhancement Practice' during the COVID 19 Retreat
May 2020

We are sorry that it has taken so long to send this newsletter. Gomde is currently in the centre of a wild fire that has been raging through the Hatfield Moor and the Lindholme Hall estate for the last seven days. The road to Gomde is closed and only emergency vehicles allowed in.

We are just drawing breath. It is as if we are under siege; since Monday we have gradually been surrounded on three sides by fire and burnt areas that repeatedly ignite. Currently we estimate that 40% of the Hatfield Moor and 25 acres of the Lindholme island have been burnt. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions we have not been able to draw on the steadfast support of our local volunteers. It is a strange isolation.

Image: Burnt woodland on the west of the island

The small community here, Khenpo Tokpa Tulku, Will, David and Paulette have been one pointedly occupied keeping  safe as well as actively engaged in fire defence strategy and fighting the fire. Khenpo advised us ‘To properly extinguish the fire we must focus on the 2nd Noble Truth ‘The Cause’ and then we will see how to eradicate the result’ 

From the first night Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche has supported us with his blessing prayers and calls. The monks at our monastery in Nepal and nuns at Nagi Gompa hermitage are  involved in daily prayers and pujas. Rinpoche explained to us “Two nights ago I had a funny feeling about Gomde, Lindholme Hall and I asked Lama Oser to check all was OK."

Image: Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche at his retreat house in Nepal 

On Sunday 17 May, a ‘manageable’ fire was discovered on Hatfield moor over a mile away from Gomde. We were informed there was no threat to Lindholme Island as we were separated from the fire by a mile of water-logged bog, which, at the time, seemed a fair assessment.

However, within 24 hours (Monday 18 May), with the assistance of an easterly wind, the fire had traversed a narrow strip of vegetation across the bog and, unchecked, it reached the west side of the island.

The blaze was intense and fast moving through our woodland and the little ‘Covid-19 retreat community’ were evacuated from Lindholme Hall to Paulette and David’s cottage at the entrance to Gomde. We were told that the fire crew would protect the cottage and Scottish Power well head but there was not time to offer protection to Lindholme Hall, the meditation hall, the new studio/workshop building or our retreat hut.

Image: Fire on the moor - over a mile from Gomde across waterlogged bog 

It felt like a miracle when we woke on Tuesday morning, to find that in the night the wind had died down, enabling the fire in the west-side woodland to be 'extinguished'. As the day progressed however, our feeling of relief slowly dissolved as we saw the west side reignite and fires to the south burning further moorland and the southern tip of the island. Nothing seemed to be effective in fighting the fire, especially as fire crews were hampered by the lack of available water.  Peat-land fires are notoriously difficult to manage as the ground itself is flammable and although flames are extinguished the ‘fire’ continues underground only to later be fanned by wind into further blazes.

Image: Fire jumps from the moor onto Gomde west-side woodland

On Wednesday 20th, Khenpo, David, Will and Paulette with help of Alex and Daniel, began digging our own fire breaks to protect the island. This 'path' of action was based upon our 2nd Noble Truth causal studies: including the wind direction, the location of the ever developing moor fires and remaining peat fires on the island. Our plan was to protect the east side of Gomde from smouldering fires on the south tip of the island.
Our reason: a fire on our east side would deliver fire to the retreat hut, studio/workshop building and thereafter to the Lindholme Old Moor (LOM). LOM, considered to be the rarest and richest ecological part of the Hatfield moor is owned by Gomde and managed by a specialist team of expert volunteers. We are all too aware that the loss of LOM would be ecologically significant.

Image: Making fire breaks to protect the buildings and LOM

On Wednesday evening it felt unreal to see that the Moors to the south-east and east of the island were ablaze despite the fact that many fire crews were proactively fighting the fire. It was at this point that we all began to feel a deep concern about ‘the result’ and began to question the strategy and resources used to fight the fire. But where was the cavalry?

Image: The blaze from the fire on Ethel moor to the east of Gomde- taken from the Meditation Hall 

Since 2019 Gomde has developed an extremely positive relationship with Doncaster council. We have worked together on a number of initiatives, including the Navigating Ecological Tragedy retreat earlier this year. 

In Sept 2019 Michele Nevarez (CEO of Goleman EI) and a Trustee of Gomde UK,  provided Doncaster Council leadership team with EI training here at Gomde and strong bonds were made. As if by chance, on Wednesday 20 May, Damian Allen, CEO of Doncaster Council, sent a message asking how we were being affected by the fire. A short email explained our concerns and by Thursday morning  the priority of the fire on Hatfield Moor had been upgraded necessitating a multi-agency response and things started to quickly improve.  
Image: Damian Allen visits the site on Thursday 21 to inspect the status of the fire. 

The multi-agency approach enabled the creation of a strategy for this complex emergency, based upon protection of life, buildings and ecology. More resources became available with better access to water (one fireman stated “It will be like we have our own water main”), helicopter water drops, active use of fire breaks (using bulldozers, mulchers and chain saws) and extra fire crews with tactical advisers from many districts including South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Humberside, Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Cumbria. Massive change has occurred.

It suddenly seems possible that LOM and the northern end of the Hatfield Moor, where the cranes and night jars nest, may be saved and Lindholme island kept largely intact. 

Image: Helicoptors water dropping and bulldozers making fire breaks

We explained to Damian when he visited the site for the day on Friday that Rinpoche was praying for us and so miracles were possible. Damian replied “It looks like the prayers have worked.” 

On Saturday evening a rainbow appeared over the new temple field and Rinpoche told us the danger is over; all will be well. 

May all the remaining life on the Moor be safe. May the fire be extinguished soon and may the habitat swiftly recover.

With much appreciation to all who are helping and with many greetings to our friends near and far, 
The Coivd 19 Retreat Community at Gomde Lindholme Hall.

To follow the unfolding story please visit our Instagram and Facebook pages. We have also added some videos to a private section of our YouTube page; please follow this link. 
Image: Friday evening - rainbow over the meditation hall