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Home built around disabled granddaughter lost near Vernon to wildfire

66-year old Sandy Brandt and her 8-year-old granddaughter Bella
Image Credit: Sandy Brandt
August 26, 2021 - 6:30 AM

After losing their family home near Vernon to the White Rock Lake wildfire earlier this month, Sandy and Dean Brandt, as well as their granddaughter Bella, don’t know where to start to rebuild.

The couple made significant investments in their property to accommodate 8-year-old Bella, who is severely disabled. She is missing half of her SMC1A gene, causing her to experience extreme seizures, she is non-verbal, requires assistance to walk, and is unable to safely navigate in most environments.

“If she approached a staircase she wouldn’t know not to fall down the steps,” Sandy said.

It became more challenging to bathe Bella as she grew from a toddler into a child, so her grandparents invested more than $30,000 into their bathroom.

Every one of Bella’s sensations was considered – from the temperature of the floors to the texture of the walls to the custom shower with a seven-foot wand.

A workshop and studio, where they would bear the fruits of their labour, was also part of their home on Udell Road near Killiney Beach.

Now the family is living in motorhome at a friend's farm in Armstrong.

“An old rickety trailer we were going to turn into a studio for clay,” she said.

Lost to the fire were Bella’s $7,000 feeding chair, a $5,800 walker, a $250 balancing ball, her stroller, oxygen machine, and many smaller specialty items such as $18 spill-proof cups. 

In their studio was Sandy’s new kiln for making clay, as well as all of Dean’s woodworking tools. Many people are familiar with the Brandts and their products through the Artisan Gift Market at DeMille's, where they serve as vendors and managers. 

READ MORE: iN PHOTOS: The devastation left behind by the White Rock Lake wildfire near Vernon

When equipped with a home full of supplies, Sandy calls herself “a prepper” who tries to make as many things from scratch as possible. One special recipe, her homemade jam, was used to help Bella take her medicine.

The couple didn’t pack coffee mugs, but they’re able to make use out of metal cups that happened to be in their truck. Coffee is one of the few things they’re able to make, after buying some beans and a grinder and borrowing a coffee maker.

“We have one plate each, one bowl, one fork.”

Beyond the most important and expensive items, Sandy is a baker and feels sad that all of her pans have been lost.

In the haste of their evacuation, Dean only grabbed one pair of flip flops, no socks, a couple of t-shirts and the pants he was wearing. He lost his exotic collection of wood – some of it already crafted into things like a charcuterie board or guitar parts, and some of it was waiting to be made into something.

READ MORE: Okanagan firefighter lost home to White Rock Lake wildfire

One of the few things the family feels fortunate about, is that Bella is relatively comfortable living in the trailer because she was already acclimatized to it, having spent two years “camping” in it. While renovating the house around Bella’s needs, Dean sometimes made loud noises that Bella didn’t like. To keep her calm, Sandy would use her imagination.

“I’d say, ‘Let’s go camping in the camper,’ so she got quite used to it. The trailer has a double bed in it where we’d nap.”

But the make-believe game that normally lasted a few hours has now been going on for weeks.

“We’ve been here since the sixth of August, we just keep telling her she’s camping.”

Despite being parked at their friend’s farm, Bella’s grandparents do their best to keep her routine normal. Their trailer is out of reach of the wifi signal, but after Sandy and Bella go to bed, Dean goes where he can download The Wiggles onto his phone in order for his granddaughter to watch her favourite show the next day.

“We’ve never been about ourselves,” Dean said. “We’ve always been about Bella and giving her as high of a quality of life as she deserves.”

A friend of the family set up a gofundme to help the family get back on their feet. Find the link to the page here.

59-year-old Dean Brandt and his 8-year-old granddaughter Bella
59-year-old Dean Brandt and his 8-year-old granddaughter Bella
Image Credit: Sandy Brandt

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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