By the time the October 2017 wildfires in Northern California were finally contained, 44 people had lost their lives and thousands of homes had been destroyed – including more than 2,800 in the city of Santa Rosa. It was the most destructive series of fires in California history, although blazes continue to rage in the state’s heavily populated Southern region.
“Diane” singer Cam was raised just about an hour away from Santa Rosa, and like all Californians she knows the danger of wildfire – as well as what it takes for a community to overcome. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared, she headed home to survey the damage and pitch in as her neighbors began to heal.
“I just wanted to go back there to thank the firefighters and first responders for what they did,” she tells Rolling Stone Country. “With the intensity of that fire, it’s amazing that they saved as many people as they did.”
Cam also donated instruments to help the city rebuild and restock the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which was partially destroyed by fires that consumed the surrounding neighborhood.
“It looked like Mars or something, it looked like a movie,” Cam says. “You imagine you’d see parts of structures still there, but because it burned for such a long time, there were whole neighborhoods that were completely flattened. Like the metal of car wheels just melted.”
Cam visited with members of the Santa Rosa fire department, and was even taken to what used to be the home of one firefighter. The house had been incinerated, but Cam was surprised by the responder’s attitude about the loss, a spirit she noticed with almost everyone she met.
“He put it really well, like the whole point of life is that he got his family out safe, he got his family back,” she says. “His whole house was destroyed and we were standing there looking at it, but it meant nothing. He was like, ‘This doesn’t mean anything to me. The only thing that means something is people.’
“It was pretty heavy stuff, but it was wonderful to see how there was a good side to the story,” she says. “The community rallied around each other to reconstruct and rebuild, and that’s so important. It’s the second part of what happens when there’s a big fire like this.”