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60 Percent of LA County is at High Risk of Catching Fire

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Los Angeles may have gotten a nice cool shower yesterday, but one late rainstorm isn't going to save our city, as the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability's first-ever Environmental Report Card makes clear. The report, which grades LA's environment in water, air, ecosystem, waste, energy, and quality of life categories, gave the region an overall grade of C+; not as bad as it could be, but still plenty of room for improvement. The expected points are made (LA is too reliant on imported water, smog is still a major issue, too many commuters still drive to work alone), but LA's worst grade is in fire (and overall ecosystem health, for which it got a C-). Close to 60 percent of LA County lands are at high risk of catching fire.

That, of course, means roughly 40 percent of lands are at a lower risk, but it's not necessarily good news. The report took a relative approach to fire risk, determining whether a given area was more or less likely to catch fire compared to the historical average. Certain areas may be at lower risk, but fire suppression efforts themselves have altered ecological conditions, leading to more potential fuel hanging around and more intense blazes when they do happen.

Red indicates areas at higher risk; blue indicates lower:

The Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains—areas "dominated by coastal sage scrub and chaparral vegetation"—are in especially bad shape, with high concentrations of land at triple the risk of fires. Global warming is only expected to make things worse, thanks to "increasing temperatures and higher levels of evapotranspiration."

The report also touched on "drought stress," or the impact the drought has had on natural vegetation. The study determined the "greenness" of areas within the county using an index known as NDVI; it compared numbers from 2000 and 2013:

Results were not good. The overall NDVI has dropped 15 percent since 2000; "extreme lows" have occurred since 2013. LA County "has experienced reduced photosynthetic activity, plants are fixing less carbon, and native vegetation is experiencing extreme water stress due to the ongoing drought."

The report does offer a few tips for improving the situation—plant indigenous plants, don't smoke in parks—but it's hard to see an easy way out. The entire (exhaustive) report is available here, if you feel like boning up on local environmental issues. —Ian Grant
· 2015 Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles County [UCLA]
· Hollywood Hills Hiking Spots May Be More At Risk For Fire [Curbed LA]
· Mapping Los Angeles's Better But Still Terrible Air Quality [Curbed LA]
· By the Numbers, the Energy Story of SoCal's Imported Water [Curbed LA]
· This is California's Worst Drought Since 800 AD [Curbed LA]