New fire rages as firefighters brace for hotter temperatures

RENO - A huge range fire northeast of Wells raged largely unchecked on Friday as federal officials warned that with triple-digit temperatures and gusty winds forecast, things are likely to get worse.

''The extreme danger existing in Nevada through this weekend cannot be underestimated,'' State Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said.

''The least spark can ignite the fuels out there today,'' he added, urging people to stay out of the back country.

The tissue paper-dry conditions have officials nervous as people take to the woods for weekend camping or hiking outings.

''The moisture in fuel in the Great Basin and in southern Nevada is at all-time lows,'' Kevin Hull, the BLM's state fire management officer, said on Friday.

As they spoke, crews were attempting to battle the Cricket fire between Wells and Jackpot. The blaze exploded to at least 35,000 acres and firefighers were largely helpless as the erratic movement of the flames made it hazardous to be anywhere near the lines.

''We have extreme fire behavior,'' Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Melissa Phillips said. ''Because of the winds, we've had whirls and dust devils with hot gasses and embers swirling around. Yesterday we had to pull off people from the fire line for safety reasons.''

Some uninhabited structures have burned and the flames are edging closer to archaeological sites along the old California Emigrant Trail.

U.S. 93 between Wells and Jackpot was closed for a time on Friday as the blaze moved dangerously close. It reopened at 11 a.m.

Other crews were mopping up the Wall Canyon fire in central Nevada that charred 7,530 acres, much of it in the Arc Dome Wilderness area north of Tonopah.

Containment also was near on the Phillips Ranch Fire, which was estimated to have burned about 500 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Great Basin National Park in extreme eastern Nevada.

The Cottonwood fire in the Stillwater Range southeast of Lovelock was contained at about 2,000 acres.

So far this year, fires have consumed at least 280,000 acres in Nevada. While that's a fraction compared to last year, officials point out that the 2000 fire season is still young and most of last year's havoc began with a rash of thunderstorms the first week of August.

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