Samoan fire crew battles California wildfire with muscle and song
They were weary from battling the wildfire, but when they raised their voices together in song, their spirits rose.
Standing side by side, the firefighters from American Samoa and Hawaii enchanted an audience of about 150 at the Redding Rancheria reservation in Shasta County last week with a traditional song they sing while fighting flames.
The song was a blessing and a prayer thanking the Lord for everything, said Andrew Lee, crew boss for the 22-man firefighting unit Samoa 61. It’s the type of song he said they routinely sing when out “on the line.”
Since Aug. 1, the group has been in Shasta County helping thousands of their fellow firefighters battle the deadly Carr fire, which has scorched 229,651 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed eight people, including three firefighters.
Jack Potter Jr., chairman of Redding Rancheria, said that when he got word that the American Samoa crew was going to be in the area, he reached out to neighboring tribes to see if they would gather to welcome the firefighters.
The response was a resounding yes, he said, and a cultural exchange event was scheduled for Aug. 14.
“When they harmonized, you just felt that spiritual connection to the song,” Potter said of the firefighters. “The natives were like, ‘Whoa.’”
The firefighters hadn’t planned on singing, according to Lee. They’d arrived at the Rancheria directly from battling the Carr fire and were made to feel so welcome that they were compelled to share some of their culture too.
“That’s what keeps us happy, keeps us cheerful,” Lee said of the group’s singing. “We think about our families.”
Indeed, the same group of firefighters captured attention in October when they were filmed walking out of the forest while singing.
As part of the exchange, dancers from the Pit River tribe danced for the animals affected by the fire and the Winnemem tribe sang a war song for the crews battling flames in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
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