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Plane Measures Extent of Dieback by Brush

A National Aeronautics and Space Administration earth resources reconnaissance plane flew high over the Santa Monica Mountains and the nearby San Gabriel Mountains this week to gather data for fire officials worried by the widespread drying out and death of wild brush.

The ER-2, a descendant of the U-2 spy plane, spent “roughly half an hour” at 60,000 feet over the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday, said John C. Arvesen, chief of the high altitude missions branch at the NASA base on Moffet Field near San Jose.

Los Angeles County Fire Department officials have said recently that they are worried by the unusual dieback of brush, which they estimate has created as much as one million tons of highly flammable dead wood that could fuel fires in the mountains this summer. The plane’s instruments scanned the mountains with regular, infra-red and heat-emissions-sensitive film to map the extent of the problem.

The cause of the dieback is still under investigation, but U.S. Forest Service researchers believe it is a result of the shortage of rain this year, following several rainy winters that encouraged wild brush to grow beyond its ability to survive in a dry year.

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