After 41 years of service to the provincial government, the last 20 of which as the wildfire officer for the 100 Mile House fire zone, Chris Betuzzi is retiring. During that 41 years, he’s also worked as a wildfire technician, silviculture technician and for the Ministry of Agriculture.
“It’s been a wonderful career really. I enjoyed the ride. It was time to retire, let someone else take over the reins, but it’s been a great career. I’m glad I was able to contribute to the well-being of the province over the years.”
On average B.C. experiences about 2,000 wildfires per year, so over the course of nearly 40 years involved in wildfires, that’s about 80,000 fires in the province during his time with the B.C. Government, he says. People might be surprised to learn that while people cause a lot of wildfires, about 60 per cent are caused by lightning, he adds.
“My responsibility was to be prepared for the wildfires in the area and our geopgraphic area extends from just south of Clinton north to 132 Mile, west to the Fraser River and then it went as far east as just this side of Wells Gray Park,” he says, adding that includes making sure crews are properly trained, have enough heavy equipment and work with the fire departments and stakeholders (such as First Nations) in the area.
“I was quite proud to be a member of the provincial government but the job was quite enjoyable over the years.”
In that role, he’s worked both in the local area but also in other jurisdictions.
“There’s not one location in B.C. that would have enough resources for a busy time of year. So we’re very mobile. We move around a lot.”
He pointed to helping other jurisdictions such as Alberta, Ontario and Washington state as one of the highlights of his career. He made note of a fire just outside of Lillooet in 2009.
“We did a burn at two o’clock in the morning because that was the ideal time when the winds had calmed down. I was about seven kilometres away at the airport directing the burn. The burn was going so well moving the fire away from town, no structures were lost and yet it was such a hot fire that I could read a book seven kilometres away.”
A big part of the job is interacting with co-workers and the public, he says, but notes that the approach in some ways is changing a little bit.
“The way our forests have evolved over say the last 100 years, in some respects, operationally we got too good at our jobs. We were putting out all the fires and what that’s created is heavy fuel loading in a lot of the forests. So not only was 2017, 2018 very dry in a good part of the province but all that fueled forest, the branches, twigs and trees, it’s all available fuel. So moving forward one of the great initiatives that the provincial government has taken, even around this area, is to proactively reduce the fuel load on the crown land.”