header image: nps.govUS Department of InteriorNational Park ServiceNational Park Service
Visitors hiking in a park.
From Samoa to the Sequoias
Charles during a clean-up day in the community of Wilsonia.
Charles is from American Samoa and was trained in wildland firefighting.

Meet Charles Ve'ave'a. Charles, 22, is from American Samoa where he had worked two seasons with an NPS trail maintenance crew. He joined Grant Grove's Engine 51 this year. He and other Samoans are trained in wildland firefighting by the NPS for developmental and employment opportunities. Interview by Deb Schweizer.

How did you learn about wildland fire? I never recall thinking about fire until Larry (Captain Larry Smith, Engine 51) and others came and taught the class. It's not really an issue in Samoa. I never thought about how dangerous, normal, and awesome of a force it could be.

Why Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks? (Laughs). I had a friend with Yosemite Fire trying to have me go there and think about a career with fire. Later, Larry called and asked several of us to apply and I did not want to miss the chance.

What was it like landing in Fresno? Confusing. I had never left Samoa before. It has a small airport and you can ask anyone for help. Traveling through Hawaii and San Francisco was quite different from that.

Coming to Grant Grove? Amazed. It was still snowy when I got there. I have never seen snow except on TV. Snow in real life: What is this? I wanted to touch it. I love snow! It is the most beautiful place (Grant). I talk to my friends and say, "I have the biggest trees just a mile from where I live."

What do you miss most from Samoa? Games. I am very active. We play rugby and go swimming in the ocean.

What is most different for you being here? Being responsible. I like being spoiled by my parents (laughing). Here I have to cook and do laundry.

What did you learn about fire? How to spin the weather (temperature, relative humidity, and wind readings), how to use water, and the different parts of the engine. I learned how fast fire can move with low relative humidity. Fire does not move that fast in Samoa. I have learned to feel comfortable with my crew. We look out for each other as brothers. They help me a lot because they respect that this has been different for me.

What meal do you want most when you get back? Pork done the Samoan way. They cook it on a sort of outdoor kitchen of heated rocks called umu. Served with taro or bananas.

Your favorite meal here? The sequoia burger (served at the Grant Grove Restaurant). Or Larry's BBQ.

Are you coming back? I plan to… if Larry wants me back.

Pre-treating forest fuels with water provided safer control of the Sheep Fire along the Kings River.
Charles pre-treats forest fuels across the Kings River during the Sheep Fire.
Engine 51
Kneeling: Tom Stevens, Matt Mateo.
Standing: Captain Larry Smith, Charles Ve'a ve'a, Scott Turner, Justin Price, Ryan Green.

NPS photo.