Deadly Wildfire in California Spreads to 12,500 Acres Amid Extreme Heat Warnings

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 03, 2024

The warmer season sprung up faster than expected in California this week. Overnight, a raging wildfire broke out in San Joaquin County, resulting in thousands of people being evacuated from the area.

The fire began on Saturday afternoon and had already spread to more than 12,500 acres by the next morning. It is currently uncontained and spreading quickly throughout the heavily wooded area, heading towards residential areas.

Where Did the Fire Begin?

It’s unclear how the initial fire began; investigators are still working to determine a direct cause. However, it is known that the fire began near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Site 300.

A nighttime view of a wildfire, with bright flames illuminating smoke and the landscape under a starry sky.

Source: Ross Stone/Unsplash

The site holds explosive materials and hydrodynamic equipment to be tested and developed. Officials fear that something went wrong with explosive testing at the site.

Interstates Have Been Closed

Along with the residents who have been evacuated from their homes, interstate 580 had to be shut down on Saturday. It remained closed throughout Sunday night from Alameda County to Stanislaus County.

A single truck drives down a road with a wildfire and black smoke rages in a green forest

Source: Marcus Kauffman/Unsplash

Unfortunately, containment of the fire dropped from 40% to just 13% overnight. The quick spread means firefighters will have an increasingly difficult time containing the blaze.

Dry Conditions in the Area

California has recently experienced an extreme drought. In addition, in many areas, invasive deer have been eating away at moist native plants and leaving behind dry twigs and leaves that can spell disaster for fire efforts.

A forest fire. The entire forest is covered in flames.

Source: Matt Howard/Unsplash

Dry weather conditions are pervasive throughout the state and will continue to worsen as the warmer summer months progress.

Firefighters Have Injured

Dry winds raging throughout the state have stoked the fire, injuring two firefighters while trying to contain it.

A firefighter wearing a red hat and full uniform stands in front of a burning house

Source: Jay Heike/Unsplash

As drought concerns worsen, state officials may have difficulty sourcing water to dump on the fire. One of the best ways to battle a forest fire is to use helicopters and small planes to pick up water from lakes and dump it directly on the fire.

Excessive Heat Watch in the Area

Although the summer has yet to begin, the state is already under an intense heat warning. Temperatures between 95 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit are predicted for the week.

A low sunset in a red and orange sky in front of low mountains

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According to the National Weather Service, high heat and strong winds are expected to pick up on Monday night, which could spell disaster for the areas surrounding the fire.


A Large Number of People Affected

The fire first began around 70 miles east of San Francisco and 80 miles south of Sacramento. The city closest is Modesto, home to about 200,000 people. It is known for being a small area with thick woods surrounding the small town.

A San Franciso street with homes seen on top of a hill in the daytime.

Source: Braden Collum/Unsplash

The small city is currently at the center of the fire, and more homes are on evacuation alert in case the fire creeps close to them.


Bad Year So Far for California Wildfires

The state of California has been battling wildfires for decades. As global temperatures continue to worsen, the threat of wildfires, hurricanes and extreme weather events becomes more common.

A firefighter battling a wildfire in California in 2007.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

California has already experienced 14 large forest fires (where more than 300 acres were burned at a time), and more than 34,000 acres of wooded areas have burned so far.


Wildfire Season Is Lengthening

Although California already knows to expect wildfires from April to October, climate scientists predict that soon, the season could be year-round.

A group of firefighters trying to put out a fire


Predictions from the Environmental Protection Agency issued in February show that the state’s fires are expected to increase in intensity and frequency. The fires will continue to affect residents and wildlife and threaten the infrastructure around the state.


Recent Years Have Been the Worst on Record for Damage

In 2020 and 2021, more than 4.3 million and 2.6 million acres were burned by wildfires in the state. The worst years on record killed an unknown amount of wildlife and caused billions in damage.

A small white plane drops a large plume of red dust over the smoke of a wildfire

Source: Ben Kuo/Unsplash

Fires decimate homes, lives, and infrastructure. The stronger they get, the more unable firefighters are to contain them. Increasing heat and droughts in the area are feared to only exacerbate the worsening fire seasons.


Hawaii Faced a Similar Blaze That Decimated Lahaina

In 2023, a small wildfire broke out just outside of the historic town of Lahaina. However, due to the excessively dry summer in the Pacific, the fire quickly swept through the small town, trapping people in their homes and cars while decimating it.

A woman wearing a white face mask and green scrubs sits in an area destroyed by a fire

Source: @nicksortor/X

More than 100 people lost their lives, and thousands were left without shelter. Historic sites like the beloved Banyan Tree, which has lived since the Hawaiian Kingdom, were taken in the blaze.


Billions in Damage Caused by the Fire

The single fire on the small Hawaiian island caused more than $5.6 billion in damage.

Two firefighters in a dry field while a wildfire rages behind them

Source: Freepik

Now, California officials are looking to change their tactics to prevent wildfires and avoid a similar situation. However, the beginning of the wildfire season does not bode well for the prevention tactics currently in place.