Natural Hazards In California

Wildfires are a common natural hazard in California.

California is the third largest and the most populous state in the United States. It sits below Oregon and above Mexico, with the Pacific Ocean to the west. Known for its diverse climate and scenic beauty, California has also been the site of many serious and deadly natural hazards such as earthquakes and wildfires. Does this Spark an idea?


A wildfire is any uncontrollable fire in a wilderness area such as a forest or hillside. Southern California is particularly prone to wildfires because of its naturally dry climate and year-round warm temperatures. The area is also particularly breezy, which helps spread and accelerate fires rapidly once they have started. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is tasked with preventing, mitigating and stopping California wildfires.


When a large mass of mud, composed of dirt and water, slides down a hillside like an avalanche, it is considered a mudslide. Hurricanes, heavy rainfall and/or melting snow are common causes of mudslides. Large mudslides can cause severe damage to a hillside, particularly if their content is in part clay or other heavy debris. Mudslides occur frequently in and around the hills of Los Angeles, California, particularly when the area gets severe rain. In February 2010, several counties in and around Los Angeles were declared major disaster areas because of several mudslides and others were still being evacuated.


Earthquakes are the type of natural disaster most commonly associated with California. An earthquake is caused when the earth’s crust suddenly releases a pocket of energy, forcing the ground to shake and tremor. California experiences minor earthquakes almost daily because of its proximately to a fault line, but it has also experienced severe and deadly earthquakes. In 1906, a major earthquake hit San Francisco, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths and $400 million in property damage. Then in 1994, another severe earthquake hit Northridge, just outside of Los Angeles, killing 72, injuring 9,000 and causing $20 billion in property damage. The Southern California Earthquake Data Center (SCEDC) charts all earthquakes and provides information on planning and preparing for an earthquake.

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