LOS ANGELES, FEB. 1 -- Gov. Pete Wilson (R) named a "drought action team" today to plan for dealing with the worst drought in California history, and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley (D) lent his support to demands for mandatory water rationing here.

These actions came amid discouraging reports of a meager snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and warnings of unprecedented fire danger in southern California resulting from the prolonged drought and damage caused by an unusually harsh freeze in December.

In Sacramento, Wilson stopped short of declaring a statewide drought emergency, while retaining the option to do so. He called the drought "a serious threat to California's environment and economy" but said it was not a life-threatening situation that justified preempting efforts by local agencies to deal with the problem.

Officials said Wilson had decided to wait two more weeks to see whether Pacific Ocean storms materialize. This winter has begun as the driest on record in California, now in its fifth year of drought. While maintaining that there is no cause for panic, Wilson said the drought "has the ring about it of a biblical curse."

Measurements at Echo Summit, at 7,382 feet in the Sierra Nevada 145 miles northeast of San Francisco, show only 17 inches of snow containing five inches of water, about one-third of the normal snowpack. Farther south, above the Owens Valley that is a principal source of water for Los Angeles, the mountain snowpack is only 13 percent of normal.

Bradley cited the snow data as he joined two City Council members in calling for mandatory reduction of water use by 10 percent March 1 and by another 5 percent May 1. Residents who exceed allotments would be penalized with a 15 percent surcharge.

The city, which has not rationed water since the last drought ended in 1978, has little choice on what to do. A voluntary compliance plan has been ineffective, and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), a principal supplier, has ordered a 15 percent water reduction, in effect forcing the city's hand.

Earlier this week, MWD General Manager Carl Boronkay said he would recommend that the district's board proceed immediately to the fifth and final stage of its rationing plan and cut water use by 31 percent. A decision on this proposal is expected when the MWD board meets Feb. 12.

The drought action team named by Wilson and headed by David Kennedy, director of state water resources, is to report to the governor by Feb. 15.

Kennedy, a veteran water official reappointed today by Wilson, is expected to pay close attention to recommendations of the California Water Resources Control Board, which heard farmers and water district officials plead for help during two days of hearings this week in Sacramento.

One proposal considered by the board would limit water use statewide to 300 gallons a household. But many who testified said such a standard is impractical because of variations in climate and water availability. In strongly conservationist communities such as San Francisco and Santa Barbara, average household water use already is less than 200 gallons a day.

Meanwhile, officials in Los Angeles County said the danger of fire has been aggravated severely by a combination of dryness and cold. A December cold snap killed brush dried by years of drought, turning it into highly flammable fuel, they said.

"There's a tremendous amount of frost kill all over the place," said Don Pierpont, the county fire department's vegetation management officer. "We're looking at {potential for} some dramatic wildfires as a result."

This fire situation is replicated in many other counties of a state where drought has become so severe that officials said 200 percent of normal rainfall is needed in February and March to avert another critically dry year.

California receives almost all of its annual precipitation during winter months. January was one of the driest winter months in state history, and most reservoirs are below the levels of 1977, the fourth year of the worst previous drought.