AN AUTISTIC man has heaped praise on the emergency services after his car was engulfed in flames as he sat in the driver’s seat.

Michael Affleck, who lives in High Hesket, was sitting in his car on the A6 when he tried to light a cigarette.

The day before he had been to his mother’s funeral, which was the reason behind the cigarette. The 45-year-old went to light it just after 6am on September 9 when disaster struck.

“I had come back from my mum’s funeral and went to stay with family but I only had enough painkillers to last a day or two.

“I came back home for painkillers and slept all day. I woke up and went to the garage to get some essentials.”

To take his mind off the world around him, Michael decided to listen to the Foo Fighters in his stationary car.

“I tried to fill up my lighter and was engulfed in a fireball,” explained Michael.

“I got out from the car and put myself out. I was burnt on my beard, hair and shirt.

“I checked my vehicle and it was filled with smoke.

“I left it and came back in to check my wounds.”

Michael explained that the wounds were painful but that they didn’t appear to be too serious.

Crews called

Firefighters from Carlisle East and Lazonby fire stations were called out at about 6.30am.

They used one hose reel jet and one breathing apparatus to extinguish the blaze and were at tackling the fire for about an hour.

Michael was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle where he was told he had suffered the equivalent of a Los Angeles face peel.

“I feel incredibly lucky,” he explained.

“Both hands were quite badly burnt and my face and ears, but they are healing now.”

Michael spent six days in the burns unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

He will, thankfully, make a full recovery.

Praise for emergency services

He heaped praise on the NHS and the fire service who came to his aid.

While he was lying in his hospital bed he decided to turn a time of challenge into one of positivity. He began work on a new book entitled Autism to Optimism, which is aimed at dispelling some of the myths around the disability.

He recently started his own business which looks to inform education establishments and firms on how they can better accommodate people with autism.

Following the same title as his book, he looks to educate people in everything from the appropriate lights to use in workspaces to how certain sounds can be distressing for those with autism.

“What we struggle with is social contact.

“We might want to turn up to work and just do the work and go home but we can’t because it’s Karen’s birthday.

“We don’t do the social side as well and we lose jobs and friendships.

“I am quite lucky to have had relationships and long term friendships.”


It wasn’t until eight years ago – at the age of 37 – that Michael was officially diagnosed with autism.

He says he has lived a fulfilling life so far, taking up roles such as a carer for people with dementia to helping students at the University of Cumbria.

“I diagnosed myself as autistic and then I was officially diagnosed within a month of starting my masters at the University of Cumbria.”

He says he now wants to help other people live the best lives they can.

Michael says those with autism have different priorities to those without.

“People will say they want to be the most popular person in school, while we are saying we don’t care and we want to work to be an archaeologist.”

It is important, according to Michael, that the diagnosis of people with disabilities is only seen as a “passport to services”, and it is not seen as a way of defining them.

He is currently offering free support to anyone who needs it during the pandemic and encourages people to get in touch.

Contact Michael Affleck on Twitter to find out more.