SACRAMENTO — Fifty-three days after being pulled from a burning home, Modesto fire engineer James Adams walked triumphantly Tuesday through the doors of the University of California Medical Center.
He raised his bandaged hands and smiled broadly while greeting many of the 80 or so who came to welcome him back to the outside world.
Adams' life was in peril just a few weeks ago. He still faces a long healing and rehabilitation process, yet he basked in the moment. He shook hands with many and gently hugged others.
He had been in hospitals ever since the fire but made huge strides in the past month toward his recovery.
"If they would have told me on New Year's Day he'd be walking out 53 days later, I wouldn't have believed it," Modesto Fire Chief Jim Miguel said. "But James is physically and mentally tough. He's always been that way."
Adams, 46, suffered third- degree burns over 45 percent of his body when the garage roof of a Coston Avenue home collapsed during the blaze.
The other Modesto firefighter on the roof with him, 32-year-old Jason
Clevenger, suffered third-degree burns over 10 percent of his body. He spent more than two weeks in hospitals before being released Jan. 18, and soon is expected to return to light duty.
Tuesday, Adams and a teary Clevenger embraced in front of Modesto truck T5, the one Adams drove to the fire that night. The crowd cheered when Adams climbed into the driver's seat with grandsons Jaden, 3, and Camden, 1, on his lap.
"It's just a great day," said Justin Adams, 23, James and Amy Adams' son.
A large contingent of Sacramento city firefighters was among those who attended, bringing a firetruck and two other emergency vehicles. They were constantly at the UC Davis burn center to help Adams' family through the ordeal by providing food and emotional support.
Adams spent about 10 minutes outside the hospital before he and his wife climbed into their car and headed home together for the first time this year.
"It's a big day," said Modesto fire Capt. Greg Ewert as the couple drove away. He also fought the Coston Avenue fire that January night. "His wife hasn't left the hospital or the hotel the entire time."
Adams' father sees his son's recovery as nothing short of miraculous.
"Two months ago, I wouldn't have thought this would be possible," said Wes Adams Sr. He is a retired firefighter who lives in Bodega Bay. "The burn unit here at Davis is the best. There is no rival."
Bee Local Columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2383.