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Corral fire injures 2 firefighters, burns one home in San Joaquin County

A resident evacuates his horse on a road with smoke in the background.
A resident evacuates with his horse as the Corral fire bears down on ranches west of Tracy on Saturday.
(Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)
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A wildfire that broke out over the weekend near an explosives and material testing site in San Joaquin County, forcing residents to evacuate, injured two firefighters and destroyed one home, authorities said Monday.

The Corral fire, which began Saturday afternoon near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Site 300, is burning to the west of Interstate 580. It had grown to 14,168 acres by Sunday night.

The fire was 85% contained as of Monday night, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

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Fueled by dry grass, the fire moved toward Tracy, a city of about 100,000 east of San Francisco, and triggered mandatory evacuations that were downgraded to warnings Sunday. Those warnings were lifted Monday night.

“Residents are advised to remain vigilant and prepared for potential changes,” San Joaquin County’s office of emergency services said in a notice to residents.

One home near the Tracy Golf and Country Club was destroyed. Officials were concerned about the fire reaching the new Tracy Hills planned community, which includes a couple of homes.

“We had such strong winds, and this grass fire was able to spread to more than 14,000 acres in essentially a day,” said Cecile Juliette, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire’s Santa Cruz unit.

On Saturday, Laura Tosti evacuated with her family and animals as the blaze came dangerously close to her Tracy home, she told KCRA-3.

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Friends and family arrived at her house with trucks and trailers to transport Tosti’s livestock. She was able to return home Sunday night.

“We feel very blessed for what we have,” she told the TV station.

The fire was initially considered a threat to the laboratory, which the Environmental Protection Agency describes as a “high-explosives and materials testing site in support of nuclear weapons research,” the Associated Press reported.

The EPA said operations at the site, which began in the 1950s, “contaminated soil and groundwater with hazardous chemicals,” and long-term cleanup is ongoing.

But in a statement Monday, the EPA said it hadn’t received reports that the facility was in danger.

The blaze briefly shut down Interstate 580; all lanes have since reopened. Local closures remained in place while crews continued to fight the fire.

About 475 Cal Fire personnel, 45 engines, 14 crews and 15 water tenders have been deployed.

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Weather conditions Monday made it more favorable to control the fire. Temperatures near the Tracy Municipal Airport were in the low 70s, with relative humidity in the mid-50s, said National Weather Service meteorologist Nathan Rick. Winds were 20 to 25 mph.

By Tuesday afternoon, relative humidity is expected to drop into the low 20s to upper teens.

“That’s when we start to get a little more concerned with fire-weather potential,” Rick added.

It’s common to see large grass fires this time of year in Northern California, because grasses tend to be dried out by May or June, said Craig Clements, professor and chair of the department of meteorology and climate science and director of the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center at San José State University.

The fire burned during relatively cool, moist conditions, carried by a strong sea breeze through the Altamont Pass, east of Livermore, but was stoked by dry grasses and strong winds, Clements said.

“With that amount of wind, fires can spread really quickly,” he said.

Times staff writer Ian James contributed to this report.

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