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Firefighters in California make significant progress in battling wildfires east of San Francisco Bay

By MELINA WALLING and JOHN ANTCZAK – Associated Press

California's largest wildfire of the year was significantly contained Monday after blackening a swath of rolling grassland between San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley.

The Corral Fire has been 75 percent contained after ravaging more than 57 square kilometers over the weekend, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. One home was destroyed and two firefighters were injured.

The wind-driven fire broke out Saturday afternoon on a site managed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the nation's premier centers for nuclear weapons research and technology. The cause was under investigation.

Thousands of people in the area, including parts of the San Joaquin County city of Tracy, were told to go to evacuation centers on Saturday. Evacuation orders were lifted as firefighters made progress battling the flames amid improving weather.

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The wildfire posed no threat to laboratory facilities or operations, Lawrence Livermore spokesman Paul Rhien said in a statement to the Associated Press early Sunday.

California has had two consecutive years of rain that ended the drought but boosted plant growth. Cal Fire's 2024 forecast says increasing dryness from mid-May to June could potentially lead to more small fires and, depending on winds, larger fires. The Corral Fire is by far the largest of more than 1,200 wildfires this year.

The progress in battling the Corral Fire comes just before a major heat wave is forecast. The National Weather Service has issued warnings of “dangerously hot weather conditions” for the entire Central Valley from Tuesday through Thursday.

Although this fire is nearly contained, fire generally burns hotter when the weather is warmer, said Jacob Bendix, professor emeritus in the Department of Geography and Environment at Syracuse University. He added that strong winds can carry embers across highways. Drought contributes to dangerous fire seasons, but paradoxically, wetter years can also cause them.

“The flip side of that is that moisture also allows for growth,” he said. In some places, a wet winter that allows vegetation to thrive can ultimately worsen future fire seasons when all those plants dry out and become fuel.

As the snowpack gradually melts over the summer, fires tend to be less frequent. But with the overall higher temperatures due to climate change, more snow tends to fall than rain, and the snowpack that does form tends to melt sooner. That has also been a problem in recent years, he said.

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