Breaking News
More () »

Burned from the SCU Lightning Complex, a $400 Ford truck saved two men's life

James and Tom were putting the final touches on protecting their family home as fires approached. The only car not torched, a $400 Ford truck with no battery or gas.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — James Schultz and Tom Shelton were putting the final touches on protecting their family home as the SCU Lightning Complex fires approached.

James kept his friend, Bobby Martinez, updated by sending him videos of the encroaching flames as they worked to fill the water tank and soak the ground.

"It just kept getting closer and closer and I told him, 'Shouldn't you evacuate?'" Bobby said. "And then we just never heard nothing else from him."

The radio-silence was especially eerie as fire evacuations are not anything new for James, Tom, and their family. James moved to the area years before and was taken in by Tom's mother, Karla, and their entire family. They now regard him as one of the kids.

"This is the fourth time in three years that my mom has had to evacuate," said Tom's brother and James' 'step-brother', Steven Nelsen.

Steven said his brothers were not there to fight the fire, they were just there to protect their family home and were leaving when the winds suddenly changed. In just seconds, their lives were forever changed.

"It happened within a matter of 30 to 45 seconds and all hell broke loose," said Steven.

As Tom began to back his truck out, it got stuck. As James came to help, he caught fire.

"He ran back and was on the ground writhing in pain," said Steven. 

Despite Tom's facial hair also being singed, quick thinking led him to cover himself and James in a blanket of water from a tank they had just filled the night before. As the flames passed overhead, they laid soaked but burned.

"That's the thing that saved their life," said Steven.

But with severe burns and no one to help, they weren't safe. All the cars on the property had been torched, except one: an out-of-use Ford Explorer, a random $400 purchase by James. 

Without a car battery or gasoline, the car was derelict. 

"Because of the badass my brother is, [he was] able to find some juice in it, and with his bloodied hands and rusted wrench he was able to get the battery to go in there," said Steven.

Tom loaded James in the truck and drove them to get help.

Thanks to Tom's bravery, they both survived. It's something that their family, friends, and community are forever thankful for -- even friends of James' that don't know Tom personally.

"I did want to say thank you to Tom," said Martinez. "Some people would just run off or call [911] but he decided to stay there and try to save James' life, even though it endangered his own life. I don't know who Tom is, but I surely love him."

Martinez said James is always giving to others and deeply loved in their community, as he is the mailman and volunteer in multiple organizations like little league. But both James and Tom will not be re-joining their community or home they worked to save for quite some time.

"They're both in for some extensive time here at the hospital," said Nelsen.

According to Bobby, James may need a kidney transplant as the burns are so severe. It's something he is already getting tested for to see if he's a match. But he's alive, and compared to some burn victims, that's lucky.

"With some of these big burns, we're talking about a 50-50 percent chance of survival," said Chief of Burn Surgery at UC Davis Health Dr. David Greenhalgh. "Kidneys, livers, lungs they're all affected."

Unfortunately, Tom and James aren't alone in their burn recovery at UC Davis Medical Center. 

"Every year we dread this time of the year," said Dr. Greenhalgh. 

While he said the Fourth of July is when they see the most patients in the burn victim unit, fire season is when they see some of the most intense burns as these take an immense amount of time from which to recover.

"The rule of thumb is it [takes a] day per percentage of burn [to heal] so that as you get into even bigger burns is longer than that," said Dr. Greenhalgh. "So if you're a 50-percent burn, you can expect to be in for two and a half months in the burn unit."

It's an intense recovery as skin needs to be replaced with skin grafts.

"We can only do their own skin so if there's only 20-percent left we have to go back and wait for that area to heal over and over again," said Dr. Greenhalgh.

Despite a long road to recovery, the community is rallying around James and Tom. A GoFundMe has been created for James, which has raised more than $24,000 in it's $50,000 goal, less than a week after the incident.

"They're going to walk out of here one day," said Steven. "And that's the most important thing."

Continue the conversation with Andie on Facebook.

Read more from ABC10

WATCH ALSO: Homes, cats, cattle survive LNU Lightning Complex Fires

Before You Leave, Check This Out