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ROSEVILLE, Calif. — For years, James has been a mini-celebrity in Paradise, known for hanging around the local Grocery Outlet where he would dress up as Superman during fundraising events for kids.
"I'm a superhero!" he'll tell you, at any chance he gets. But the day of the Camp Fire, James' "Superhero" title took on a very real meaning.
"What happened was the day of the fire, the short version," James, who is developmentally disabled and doesn't like to give out his last name, explained, "is that the porch was on fire and I said the porch is on fire to Grandpa."
"Grandpa" is what James calls Jimmy, his best friend and roommate of roughly 40 years. Jimmy is 86-years-old, and when the fire approached their mobile home, it was up to James to figure out how to get the two of them out.
"I said for him to get a breathing mask on because he was having trouble breathing," James said. "And then I asked him to go into a garbage can for him to be rolled in a garbage can."
James tried rolling Grandpa in that garbage bin, but he couldn't go far, and flames were now surrounding them on both sides of the road. He had to think quickly, so he decided to use the flashlight he had to flash the "S.O.S." signal.
Miraculously, a fire crew a few blocks away saw it and came to the rescue.
That crew took the two men to Butte College. From there, the Veteran's Association temporarily placed Grandpa, who is a veteran, and James into a Roseville motel.
But back in Paradise, James' friends started to worry.
James ended up on the missing persons list and posts like these popped up on the Facebook, asking if anyone had seen him.
That's where Valerie Posas, an employee at the Roseville Grocery Outlet, comes in. She met James when he came into the store one early Saturday morning.
"I just engaged in conversation and he said he lost everything and that he had saved Grandpa," Posas recalled. "And from there we started talking. He touched my heart in just those few minutes."
Later that night, Posas looked James up on Facebook and saw that people were asking about him. She alerted his friends of where he was and then shared the story with her boss, hoping there was a way that they could help.
That's where the entire Roseville community comes in. Posas' boss told his friend Jamie Brandt, who posted James' story on the "Adopt a Family" Facebook page. Teresa Helmick was first to respond.
"I said, 'Hey, I'm in Roseville, what do you need for help?'" Helmick recalled. "And so a group of us got together and sat down and met James. As you've seen he's just got an amazing spirit, and that's when we all realized that if we didn't help these two gentleman they were probably going to be in trouble."
After hours of research and phone calls to FEMA, these generous strangers helped James and Grandpa, who both lost everything in the fire, get back on their feet and find a new home in Grass Valley. They plan to move into the home in the coming days.
Brandt says there is a list of volunteers — contractors, movers, etc. — who have signed up to help James and Grandpa with that move.
"It means really special to me," James said through tears about his new friends. "To lose a town is just...that was the hardest. To lose family. But I have many blessings in my life...I feel like I lost something, but I gained them."
It's his cheery disposition that he now hopes to to take with him to his new home where, of all things, a Grocery Outlet will be right across the street.
"She found a community where he can walk, that's very much like a Paradise," Jamie Brandt said.
If you ask James what he needs now, he'll tell you just one thing: A new superhero costume.
"I lost my superhero suit, so if you have a superhero suit I’m large, and I like the bright and big yellow belt and a big stainless steel belt with like 'S,'" he said.
That's because James is, after all, the Paradise Superhero.
"I'm a superhero," he said with a smile. "I saved Grandpa."
A GoFundMe has been set up to help James and Grandpa.
Follow the conversation on Facebook with Liz Kreutz.
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