SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – Two stepbrothers were recovering in the hospital Wednesday after being badly burned by a fire within the SCU Lightning Complex.
As the fire raged into the Del Puerto Canyon area, stepbrothers James Schultz and Tom Shelton were the last ones on their property in the rugged hills between San Joaquin and Alameda counties.
“They were just, basically, protecting their property,” Steven Nelsen told FOX40.
Nelsen is the brother of 22-year-old Shelton and stepbrother of 32-year-old Schultz. He spoke with FOX40 Monday outside the University of California, Davis Medical Center where the two men were being treated for serious burns.
He said his brothers were setting up sprinklers and grabbing valuables when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by flames.
“They listened to all the warnings. They were prepared for everything, but the wind shifted and it caught them by surprise. It could happen that quickly and they were not trying to be heroes,” Nelsen explained. “Tom said that in a matter of 35, 40 seconds it just changed and they got caught.”
Nelsen said their cars caught on fire and they caught on fire.
By working together, Nelsen said they made it to a water tank on the property.
“The 2,000-gallon water tank. That’s what saved their life. They turned the water on on top of them as the fire passed over them,” Nelsen explained.
Nelsen said there was one car on the property that hadn’t burned but it didn’t have a battery.
“And Tom, as he’s bloodied and burning and everything, gets up, finds a battery on the property that still has juice after starting all the sprinklers and the totes and everything with his bloodied hands and a rusty crescent wrench. And the battery didn’t fit. He pounded it in to fit in there, tightened it. But they didn’t have any gas. They found 10 gallons of gas on the property too that hadn’t burned, luckily,” Nelsen said.
The badly burned men drove to a company of firefighters who were down the street and one firefighter recorded his brothers’ agony on video. For that firefighter, Nelsen had a stern message.
“Specifically the firefighter who decided it was time to videotape my brothers as they’re burning alive, that is not OK,” he said.
Nelsen wanted people to know his brother and stepbrother are going to need a lot of support moving forward.
“They’re expected to make a full recovery and they’re both stable and alive. That’s really what we care about,” Nelsen said.