Stories From The Field

Assessing Fire Hazard Risk in Southern California

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Southern California’s weather, topography, vegetation, and wind patterns put it at great risk for wildfires. Over the past few decades, enduring droughts and increased development into fire-prone lands have exacerbated these risks.


The Global Ecosystem Center used NOAA’s land cover data sets (from 1996, 2001, and 2005) to analyze areas at risk, their proximity to urban developments, and changes to risks over time. These nationally standardized data can be compared against one another to document changes over multiple years. With these data sets as a guide, they used additional archived Landsat imagery from 1984 to 2011 to evaluate the land cover over a longer time span. The overall analysis spanned 26 years of data.


The data demonstrated that the region between Los Angeles and San Diego experienced the highest rates of urban growth, and many of the new developments are in areas at significant risk of fire. This information is being used to develop better strategies for land use management, natural resource management, and vulnerability.

NOAA’s C-CAP Regional Land Cover data and archived Landsat Satellite Imagery showing fire hazard risks due to Santa Ana winds
Change areas between 1985 and 2011 superimposed on a fire hazard layer. Generally, most urban development (turquoise) is near high fire risk areas. The direction of the Santa Ana winds is shown with orange lines.
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