Firefighters continue battling Corral Fire near Tracy, Livermore

Firefighters made significant progress Sunday to tame a wind-driven wildfire that scorched thousands of acres, burned down a home and forced residents to flee the area near Tracy.

As of Sunday evening, CalFire said the cause was under investigation.

The fire erupted Saturday afternoon in the grassy hills managed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the country’s key centers for nuclear weapons science and technology.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said the research center was not under immediate threat from the blaze, dubbed the Corral Fire, which had devoured some 22 square miles by Sunday afternoon. The fire burned about 14,168 acres and is 50% contained as of Sunday evening.

Thousands of people in the area, including parts of the city of Tracy with a population of 100,000, were ordered to leave for evacuation centers Saturday. CalFire said around 200 families were asked to evacuate.

The evacuation order was downgraded to an evacuation warning Sunday evening, meaning that residents were able to return to their homes but were asked to remain vigilant should conditions change. Tracy is about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of California’s capital in Sacramento.

CalFire Battalion Chief Josh Silveira said Sunday afternoon the fire “burned right up to the homes” in the area and destroyed one house. With calmer winds and milder weather Sunday, Silveira said he didn’t expect the fire to grow.

Two firefighters suffered minor to moderate burns on Saturday and were expected to make a full recovery, Silveira said. Sunday evening, CalFire said these firefighters were still hospitalized.

The wildfire presented no threat to any laboratory facilities or operations and had moved away from the site, Lawrence Livermore spokesperson Paul Rhien said in a statement to The Associated Press early Sunday.

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“As a precaution, we have activated our emergency operations center to monitor the situation through the weekend,” Rhien said.

Photos showed a wall of flames moving over the parched landscape as dark smoke billowed into the sky.

The wildfire also forced the closure of two major highways, including an interstate that connects the San Francisco Bay Area to San Joaquin County in central California, but they had reopened by Sunday afternoon.

The San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services issued an evacuation order for areas west of the California Aqueduct, south of Corral Hollow Creek, west to Alameda County and south to Stanislaus County. A temporary evacuation point was established at Larch Clover Community Center in Tracy. The orders were downgraded to warnings after 6 p.m. Sunday.

The home that burned down in this fire is located on Bernard Drive near Tracy in San Joaquin County.

Travis Curtiss of Manteca says it is where his parents, Chris and Stevan Curtiss, have lived for 35 years. Curtiss said his parents were able to evacuate safely along with their two dogs and pet turtle.

“They’ve seen fires over there before, and CalFire’s always stopped it before it even got close to their house, but I think the wind was just pushing this one too fast,” Curtiss said.

He explained that sheriff’s deputies knocked on his parents’ door Saturday evening and told them they needed to evacuate.

“They had enough time to grab the animals, some dog food, a bag of clothes and that was it,” he said. “They didn’t grab their meds, or any other items, like documents or anything like that.”

Curtiss went with his mom and law enforcement to look over the damage on Sunday, they tried to recover a few sentimental items from the debris.

“They could definitely use the support, because they lost everything,” Curtis said of his parents.

Many residents in the surrounding neighborhood said they were shocked to see how quickly the flames crept from the hills to their homes.

“We were like, ‘Oh it’s fine, [the fire is] behind the hill we’re good’ and then the wind picked up and it just flew,” explained 14-year-old Monte Maniz, whose family had to evacuate.

Sunday’s high temperature for Tracy was expected to reach 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), with no rain in the forecast, but hotter conditions are on their way.

The National Weather Service said “dangerously hot conditions” with highs of 103 F to 108 F (39.4 C to 42.2 C) were expected later in the week for the San Joaquin Valley, an area that encompasses Tracy. Wind gusts of up to 45 mph lashed the region Saturday night, according to meteorologist Idamis Shoemaker of the weather service in Sacramento.

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