The Fires of Anza Pines

December 3, 2018 | Blog, Disaster, General RCAP News

In late July of 2018, shortly before wildfires would sweep across much of California in what would become the state’s worst year for wildfires on record, firefighters in Riverside County were already hard at work battling the Cranston fire ten miles north of the rural community of Anza.

Anza is a small community in southern California about ninety miles northeast of San Diego and about one hundred and twenty miles southeast of Los Angles. According to the 2010 Census, Anza had a population of about three thousand people with the median age of residents in Anza is nearly ten and half years older than that of Californians at large and with a median income 11.2% less.

Although emergency workers did claim eventual victory over the flames, it didn’t come soon enough for many of the residents of Anza who found themselves without power and water for two weeks after the fire destroyed electric transmission lines.

Merl Johnson, Anza’s water system manager, knew immediately he was going to have to confront an enormous challenge that many communities across California are now facing. “We were doing our best to notify the public about where to get water for human consumption and for their animal use,” said Johnson. He noted that with eight thousand people that would be ultimately affected by the water and power outages in and around Anza, the first step in recovery was to hold a publicmeeting to discuss options and solutions.

Johnson also immediately contacted Jennifer Hazard, Rural Development Specialist at RCAC’s Community & Environmental Services (RCAP’s Western Region), who has worked with him on the Anza Regional Water Planning Project. “[The] local electric co-op has acquired generators, and they will be revolving electricity around for two hours,” Johnson informed Hazard. Johnson was prepared to ask for help and requested assistance from RCAC while detailing his plan, “I am going to be providing water for human and livestock consumption from Anza Mutual Water Company…”

Communication between communities and technical assistance providers is often brief and sometimes frantic in these circumstances, and it represents part of the challenge for rural communities in the face of disaster. In the American West, a drier climate, drought, and a fast-paced wildfire season have highlighted the need for rural areas expand and improve their water and wastewater infrastructure and to have plans in place for when disaster does strike.

Hazard ultimately coordinated emergency efforts between Johnson, the Anza Electric Co-op, the local Red Cross office, and equipment suppliers and local retailers. Quickly, a “cooling station” was set up at Anza Community Hall, Anza’s Hamilton High School was transformed into an emergency shelter, bottled water was available for distribution, and emergency generators were brought in to supply area residents with temporary rolling power.

Wildfires and natural disastershave continued to sweep across California and much of the American West. Thisreality means that communities are faced with the increasing immediate need toprepare to for both disaster response and recovery. To learn more about how todevelop your community’s plan, please review the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency’s guidance, andto inquire about preparedness assistance available to communities across thecountry, visit