Assessing Fire Hazard Risk in Southern California

abstract background image with blue overlay


Southern California’s weather, topography, vegetation, and wind patterns put the state at great risk for wildfires. Over the past few decades, enduring droughts and increased development have exacerbated conditions.


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 over time. (These nationally standardized data can be compared against one another to document changes over multiple years.) The group also used additional archived Landsat imagery from 1984 to 2011, which provided an overall analysis that spanned 26 years of data.


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

NOAA’s C-CAP coastal 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.