Victoria resident Michael Wegner is recovering in hospital after a devastating house fire gutted his home on May 4.
But even with second-degree burns, he is still advocating for the environment from his hospital bed.
“I have some very important work ahead of me still and I need to get back to it because it’s not just about me. It really is to the wellbeing of all Canadians,” said Michael.
The 57-year-old is known in the community for volunteering, organizing community cleanups and is a fixture at the Beacon Thrift Store in Quadra Village.
“I was taught as a young man, to find a need and to fill it,” explained the volunteer.
Michael and his wife Linda were injured in a Victoria house fire on May 4 that destroyed almost all of their possessions. Linda received “minor burns” according to her husband, and was not hospitalized. Michael, on the other hand, has been in the hospital since the event and has no release date in sight.
All clothing, furniture, art and almost all possessions were lost in the fire, and the couple was in the process of finding tenant insurance when the fire took place.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help the couple buy basic needs, like clothing and toothpaste, and to help them find a new place to stay.
“They have no significant savings. After spending their lives giving to their community all the money and time they had, they have been left with nothing, not even a change of clothes,” reads the fundraising page.
“I will need things my only my mother used to buy me: socks and underwear,” joked Michael.
Pacifica Housing has temporarily found them a place to stay, where Linda is residing for the time being.
Michael will need skin grafts on all burned areas to repair the damaged skin.
“The first dressing change occurred on Saturday. I’m learning when they say ‘oh it’s not bad,’ it’s a whole quantum leap from what we’re used to,” explained Michael.
He suffered burns on his feet, his left arm, his face and his ear, but the worst of it on his right arm, where he will need skin grafts cut from his thigh.
“My face is going to have the bicolor that happens from burns, my right ear will not match the left ear,” he said.
The fire started after Michael made fries on the stove, and accidentally left the element on. Linda was burned when she tried to turn the element off.
The residents knew not to throw water on a grease fire, but Michael couldn’t find anything large enough to smother the flames in the large wok.
According to the Victoria Fire Department, the house was “fully involved” when firefighting crews arrived, with fire present at the front of the house, smoke and fire visible from the back with flames spewing from several roof vents.
It took over 20 firefighters and crew approximately 25 minutes to control the flames.
“The cost of the damage was estimated at $150,000. Several rooms were affected by fire, smoke, and water damage,” said the department.
Even with having lost almost all of his possessions, Michael hopes to continue his volunteer and environmental work to change a law in Canada to help reduce plastic waste left from cigarettes.
Last year he helped organize Jam One in the Can, a project to collect cigarette butts from across Greater Victoria.
Michael says there are enough cigarette filters in Canada to pave a sidewalk from Victoria to St. Johns, with just the filters, and they are a huge source of plastic waste.
Organizers offered five cents a cigarette butt, to see if people would return them if they were paid for it.
“We were expecting 40,000. We got 640,000,” laughed Michael. “Which was more than we could afford, with our $2,000 and 100 hotdogs.”
He said people still lined up around the block to return them even though they knew they could not be paid for them, and he thinks they broke a world record for most cigarette butts collected in one day.
There is a petition coming soon to the Ban the Butt website, to help ban plastic cigarette filters across Canada and implement a handling fee applied to tobacco products before the House of Commons this Fall.
“It’s hugely bad for the environment,” said Michael. “There’s fees for tires, electronics and pop cans. Why not filters?”
He says there are compostable replacements for the plastic filters in cigarettes, and if the government can ban single-use plastics like straws and food packaging, they should be able to prohibit these as well.
Laurell Collins, a Victoria MP, is on board with the idea and is helping in trying to change this legislation.
Michael’s work has promised him he can return to his job when he is better, but Michael has no indication of when he will be released from the hospital.
He has received tons of support from the community during this time, many of whom are wishing to help a man known for helping the community.
A donator on the GoFundMe page said, “I want to help these community members who have dedicated their lives to helping others.”
Michael says he is grateful for the help and support and hopes to be on his feet soon, volunteering and fighting for the environment.