West Kelowna  

Family thanks community for coming to aid after house fire

Fire takes home, not hope

Sarita Patel

A family who recently lost their home due to a house fire wants to thank the community for the outpouring of support. 

Michelle Hemingway was filled with emotion when she spoke about how her neighbours and strangers banded together to help her family in their time of need. 

“First off, you never think it’s going to happen to you … what have I done to deserve this from people I’ve never met?”

She tells Castanet the community has offered them free storage, food, clothes, donated money to their GoFundMe, something she described as overwhelming.

“Those are the things I like to do, I am a nurse, I work for Interior Health and I’m a helper - that’s what I do - I’m not on the receiving end, I like to be on the giving end.”

She says it’s been difficult to accept everyone's generosity. 

“Your automatic reaction is, ‘Oh, I’m good,' but I am not good.”

They’ve been staying with a friend but hope to find something more long-term, but Michelle says it’s hard to find a place for five adults and a dog in the middle of the summer.

“Friends of ours have stepped up and are allowing us to stay in their basement suite, we’re very fortunate - we have amazing friends,” explains Tim Hemingway. “We want to keep them as friends, so we don’t want to live there forever.”

Community members have even brought over baskets of goodies that had dog treats and toys for their six-month puppy, Zoey ‚ who evidently notified Megan, Michelle’s daughter, to the fire. 

“Zoey kept sticking her nose up in the air and smelling and then she would bark and my daughter Megan thought that was really odd,” adds Michelle. 

Her daughter went to investigate and that’s when she heard the crackles of the fire in the backyard. She immediately got the members of the house outside, called emergency crews and her parents who were camping at Bear Creek. 

“It really didn’t register, okay the decks on fire … it really didn’t sink in.”

The couple then drove back to their neighbourhood and that’s when they saw their family home in flames. 

“I see this big puff of smoke coming and I said to my husband, is that our house?” 

Once they approached the house they were blocked off by emergency crews but were able to connect with her family who ended up going to a nearby park and watched their home burn from afar. 

She wanted to give a shout out to the West Kelowna Fire Department as they were able to start fighting the blaze within minutes as they were training nearby. 

“They had all their gear on as a fellow from Winmar said, they were all dressed for the party. 

Most of their possessions suffered smoke or water damage. A few framed photos remained in good condition, and one very sentimental item survived it all. 

“Everything was crashed down around and burnt except for my mom’s china cabinet that has been in our family for years, it still sat pristine, not even the glass was broken on it,” she says. 

The family has reached out to their insurance company but they say it hasn't kicked in. They've been told by a restoration company not to go into the house which means the family is currently in need of a long-term rental property.

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