California firefighters make progress against first large fire of the year

The western US state has struggled to cope with wildfires that have grown in size and destructiveness in the last decade.

An aerial shot of a wildfire advancing across grassland
The Corral Fire burning on Sunday, June 2, 2024, near Tracy, California, the United States [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection via AP]

Firefighters have made significant progress in their efforts to contain a wildfire near the San Francisco Bay Area in the western US state of California.

The state firefighting agency Cal Fire said that the Corral Fire, which started on Saturday afternoon, was 75 percent contained as of Monday. One home has been destroyed and two firefighters injured.

“Weather conditions became more favorable for firefighters, allowing crews to make progress constructing and improving control lines,” Cal Fire said in an update on its website, noting that 475 personnel were working to contain the fire.

The fire has burned more than 5,706 hectares (14,100 acres), making it the largest of the year in California, where fire conditions tend to worsen as temperatures climb in the spring and summer.

A bulldozer workers to create a line against a fire
A bulldozer works against the Corral Fire on Sunday, June 2, 2024, near Tracy, California, the US [California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection via AP]

According to Cal Fire, eight of the 10 largest fires in recorded state history have occurred since 2017. Some experts have said a confluence of factors has driven the surge of large, destructive fires: unusual drought and heat exacerbated by climate change, overgrown forests and rising populations in areas adjacent to wildland.

Many of those large fires took place during the 2020 and 2021 fire season, when a succession of massive blazes blanketed cities in layers of smoke and ash and displaced thousands of people.

The last two years, however, have been relatively mild. In 2023, wildfires across the state burned a total of 131,489 hectares (324,917 acres), down from 134,095 (331,358) in 2022. By comparison, both 2020 and 2021 saw single fires that scorched about  404,700 hectares (one million acres) on their own.

The cause of the Corral Fire, located in San Joaquin County between the Bay Area and the state’s Central Valley, remains under investigation. It has largely taken place on lands owned by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, an important centre for federally-funded nuclear weapons research.

Paul Rhien, a spokesperson for the lab, told the Associated Press news agency in a statement that the fire has not posed a threat to the facility.

The flames were driven by high winds, but authorities say that moderating conditions have allowed them to make progress towards containing the fire, and previous evacuation orders have been lifted.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press