SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Working ahead of the advancing Whittier Fire, Los Padres National Forest firefighters moved around the clock in extreme heat to protect a sacred site of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.
The site is located near the Whittier Fire burn zone and is rich in rock art that holds special meaning and spiritual value to the Chumash. It's often a place where people pray and offerings are left.
Firefighters worked tirelessly on July 10 to eliminate dense vegetation next to the sacred site in an effort to reduce the fire's potential impact to the site. "Radiant heat from a fire could cause significant damage to the rock art," said Los Padres National Forest in a statement.
Mechanical equipment was not used in this operation to protect and respect the site.
"The crew exhibited great respect for the sacred nature of the area and expressed that 'they felt honored and privileged to be able to work to protect this sacred area,'” said the Los Padres statement.
The firefighters were accompanied by an archeologist named Steve Galbraith who was designated as a Resource Advisor. Resource Advisors have expertise in areas such as cultural and natural resources and work hand-in-hand with the fire crews to make sure areas of significance are protected.
One of the main objectives for firefighters, particularly during fires, is to protect sacred sites like this.
“These sacred places are very important to the culture and the people, and they are very thankful for the firefighters. But please keep in mind that human lives are the most important thing. These places we call sacred have survived for hundreds of years from natural fires. Impacts from mechanical equipment are of concern,” a Chumash Elder told Los Padres Tribal Liaison Pete Zavalla during a previous fire.
The Whittier Fire sparked near Cachuma Lake on Saturday, July 8, 2017.