B.C.’s tremendously challenging 2021 wildfire season saw 1,642 wildfires, thousands of evacuated residents, nearly 8,700 sq. kms. of land burned (the third worst on record) and, for added measure, a historic “heat dome” with record-breaking temperatures.
On top of the usual pressures of fighting wildfires, staffing efforts were further complicated by the ongoing pandemic, which limited B.C.’s ability to bring in out-of-province firefighting resources and also posed health risks for everyone involved, including firefighters and evacuees.
Jonathan Tee, a Corpus Christi College alumnus and Canadian Army Reservist, raised his hand to volunteer for Operation LENTUS with the Canadian Armed Forces, answering B.C.’s call for military assistance to respond to the emergency.
Tee — “Private Tee” when on duty — was rapidly deployed with a Domestic Response Company to central B.C. Armed Forces personnel assisted wildfire service staff with holding fire lines and suppressing hot spots, in addition to transport and fire line construction.
Reflecting on his experience, Tee remembers the strength of the people he encountered, and that while days were long and tiring, the work was important. “Working next to you, you have people who are from Vernon, who are from Kelowna,” he recalls.
Of particular interest to Tee were the Indigenous fire management techniques used. “We lit backfires, where we would intentionally light a fire to burn off all the combustible materials,” he explains. “It would create a belt free of burnable materials that the larger wildfire would have difficulty crossing. It’s an Indigenous technique used to tend and care for the land.”
Tee has a long history of lending his time and talents to community initiatives and was well regarded for his heart for service at Corpus. Not surprisingly, one of the reasons he was drawn to Corpus was its social justice programming and liberal arts focus. He credits his time in the small, supportive classrooms with giving him the confidence to engage in challenging academic conversations, especially at UBC, where he completed his degree.
Tee first considered joining the Canadian Army Reserves while he was a student. “After hearing about the work done by the military, I was sitting there thinking: Why shouldn’t I help out? I feel a sense of community and responsibility toward my country. I can make an impact. I can help.”
The move is an extension of his passion for helping, including previous volunteer work as a Program Coordinator for Couples for Christ Youth, a youth leader at St. Mary’s Parish, a volunteer with The Good Shepherd Ministry and Agape Street Ministry in the Downtown Eastside, and a Youth Committee member for Anxiety Canada.
Photos courtesy of Canadian Armed Forces Public Affairs. Photographer: Sailor First Class Victoria Ioganov