Despite losing all his possessions in a recent trailer fire, volunteer firefighter Mike Weller said he doesn’t need a thing, and encourages those wanting to help to donate to a veterans’ group instead.
“I am doing fine,” Mike, 59, says, sitting at a table in the small, volunteer-run Houston Mesa Fire Department. “Stuff is stuff.”
Just a few blocks away, Weller’s former home sits crumpled in a twisted, metal mess of ash. On June 17, Weller’s doublewide trailer was engulfed in flames, with his terminally ill wife, Sherry, 61, still inside.
Luckily, a neighbor pulled Sherry from the entrance of the burning home just in time, said Fire Chief Chuck Jacobs.
Sherry, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stood frozen in fear in the home’s entranceway, unsure of what to do. Mike said Sherry has a hard time walking and is “not mentally there” all the time.
Sherry later told Mike she tried to stop the fire by throwing two bottles of water on it, but did not have enough water.
Fire officials believe Sherry inadvertently started the blaze by smoking while using an oxygen machine in the home’s living room. Sherry has been on oxygen continuously for the last three years.
When the fire started at 6:20 p.m., Mike said he had only left Sherry half an hour earlier. Mike and fellow firefighters were just starting training at the station when the tone out came over the radio for a structure fire. When Mike heard what street the fire was on, he said he had “a real sick feeling it was my house.”
Then dispatch gave the home’s full address and it was Mike’s neighbors. When crews arrived, however, they realized it was Mike’s home.
Once Mike realized Sherry was safe, along with their two dogs, he rushed around the home and made sure the electricity and gas were shut off.
Meanwhile, a crew kept the blaze from spreading to nearby trailers, while Mike’s home was a total loss. Jacobs said the fire was burning too hot to save the home.
After putting the fire out, fellow firefighters comforted Mike.
“It was a pretty emotional night,” he said.
Without a permanent home, Mike said a Valley woman has generously donated the use of her Payson home while she is away. Mike will “housesit” until he finds a new rental.
Since Sherry needs around-the-clock care, she is at Payson Care Center.
Mike hopes with his new part-time job at Napa Auto Parts, he will eventually have enough for a new rental where Sherry can stay. A year ago, Mike lost his job at Auto Zone and was “having a hard time making it.”
“It feels pretty good to get a paycheck now,” he said.
Mike’s in-laws owned the Weller’s old home and said they have no plans to rebuild.
When listing all the people who have reached out and helped after the fire, Mike is visibly moved.
“A whole bunch of people donated,” he said. “This community’s passion and generosity — I knew of it because I worked the Rodeo-Chediski, Water Wheel and Willow fires and saw how the community responded — but this is the first time it has happened to me.
“I have always been on the giving end.”
Mike, a lieutenant with Houston Mesa Fire Department, has volunteered since 1998 when he retired from Motorola.
Mike said it was Sherry’s idea to get involved.
“She thought we could do something for the community,” he said.
In lieu of donations to him, Mike asks that any donations go toward a veterans group, such as the Payson Supply Line.