One in a ten-part series showcasing the volunteerism, community and resilience surrounding those evacuated due to the wildfires engulfing parts of the B.C. Interior.
Tanya Kielpinski was cleaning the bathroom of her travel trailer during her phone interview with the Reporter “just for some normal.”
“It’s so funny because it’s the last thing I should be doing, but I just, I don’t know. I think it will help,” she said. “You know what it’s like when you just need a little bit of normal?”
Kielpinski is one of the 43,000 wildfire evacuees who is desperately hoping for a bit more normal. It’s now more than 14 days since Kielpinski and her family were forced to leave their home in 150 Mile House; Kielpinski and her three sons are living in their travel trailer at a resort 20 minutes outside of Salmon Arm. Her husband left on Wednesday, July 19 to work up north for two weeks.
“It’s been surreal. I don’t even know how to explain it,” Kielpinski said.
“To be honest, those days [after the evacuation] kind of all mixed to me. We were evacuated four times in two days, so I don’t remember all of it.”
The Kielpinskis were camping near Shuswap when they recieved the evacuation order for 150 Mile House. Unable to return home to grab anything beyond what was already in their trailer, the family drove up to 100 Mile House, hoping to get temporary access to check on their cat and chickens.
That night, 100 Mile House was evacuated.
Kielpinski moved on to Sheridan Lake, still hoping to get temporary access to their home. Sheridan Lake was then put on evacuation alert, and the local MLA requested that anyone already evacuated leave the community so residents could prepare to evacuate.
“Then it’s kind of been two nights here, two nights there, just trying to find a place to set up home,” Kielpinski said.
On top of evacuations and home worries, Kielpinski had another problem. Her father, Terry Tomm, had booked a 14-day, father-daughter trip to Europe, but because of the evacuation order, Kielpinski hadn’t been able to grab her passport.
“I [also] knew I couldn’t leave my family,” she said. “I have three boys. And animals. I just knew I couldn’t leave while this was happening to my home.”
Tomm hadn’t purchased cancellation insurance. When Kielpinski was evacuated on July 7, their trip was seven days away.
Tomm called British Airways, their flight provider, and asked if he could move the flight dates. They offered him a $400 refund on the two tickets to London. Then, he called Expat Explore, the tour company he had booked with.
“This was now five days before the trip,” Kielpinski said. “They said that if my dad had called six days ago, they could have possibly done something, but because it’s such short notice, there’s not much they can do.
“At that point I got kind of upset, because I knew my dad was going to be out all this money. So I took to social media.”
On a Facebook post, which Kielpinski took down three hours later to avoid negative comments about her dad not purchasing cancellation insurance, Kielpinski asked for suggestions on how to deal with her trip.
Someone tagged Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon on the post. Kielpinski had grown up in North Delta, and Tomm currently lives in the community, but Kahlon didn’t know this when he first saw the post.
“Normally, at work you serve the people of North Delta,” Kahlon said. “But I just felt like I just wanted to help.”
“The fire is all around them, they’re doing so much,” he added. “I thought the last thing they should be worrying about is this.”
He called Kielpinski, and told her she didn’t need to worry about her trip.
“When Ravi first called me, the initial feeling I can say was huge relief, because I just felt so appreciative of someone helping,” she said.
Kahlon called British Airways, getting help from the Vancouver Airport Authority. At first, there was nothing. Eventually, he managed to secure Tomm and Kielpinski credit to rebook their flights any time in the next six months.
Then it was on to Expat Explore, which eventually credited the pair most of their money, allowing them to use the credit anytime in the next year.
“I think we lost maybe $1,500 or something from that,” Kielpinski said. “It all worked out amazing.”
Thanks to help from strangers and social media, Kielpinski doesn’t have to worry about Europe or her dad’s finances anymore. She can focus on creating a plan for her family that will keep them focused for the next two weeks.
“No one knows when we are going home. People think that it will be a while,” she said.
“Our plan is to set up here for the next week or two. If our house does get let back in, that’s what I will do.”
In the meantime, Kielpinski is going to keep cleaning the bathroom.