RENO - Firefighters tamed one fiery beast in central Nevada as new fires broke out in other parts of the state. And with sizzling temperatures and a chance of thunderstorms predicted for the weekend, officials feared a bad situation may only get worse.
''The humidities in the state are way down, in some areas down to single digits,'' said Steve Frady of the Nevada Division of Forestry.
''We're looking at a three-to-five day weather forecast that anticipates lightning moving into the Sierra on Saturday. The fire danger remains extreme.''
Crews on Thursday were mopping up the Wall Canyon fire in central Nevada that charred 7,500 acres, much of it in the Arc Dome Wilderness area.
But their attention was quickly diverted to northern Nevada, where two large fires continue to burn.
The Cricket fire northeast of Wells broke out Wednesday afternoon and quickly spread through tinder-dry grass, sagebrush, pinion and juniper.
By Thursday, flames had consumed about 7,500 acres and continued to spread.
''It's burning very actively,'' said fire information officer Melissa Phillips. ''What we're seeing right now is some real erratic winds.
''It's definitely grown,'' she said Thursday afternoon, adding that officials had not yet calculated additional acreage.
Meanwhile, the Cottonwood fire in the Stillwater Range southeast of Lovelock was at about 2,000 acres and firefighters hoped to be nearing containment.
A lightning-sparked fire charred about 300 acres in Great Basin National Park on the Nevada-Utah line, while 800 acres burned in southern Nevada near Caliente.
So far this year, fires have consumed about 250,000 acres in Nevada. While that's a fraction compared to last year, officials point out that the 2000 fire season is still young.
Last year, Nevada had a relatively mild fire season until the first week in August, when a rash of thunderstorms marched across the state, setting fires along the way.
Before it was over, a record 1.6 million acres had been burned.
Frady said conditions are ripe for a repeat performance.
''What we're going to be watching is the potential for the kind of lightning activity we had last year,'' he said.
And with vegetation dry even in the higher elevations, he said this fire season could drag out until mid October.
Adding to the concern is the weariness of the firefighters, who are in high demand across the West.
''A lot of these people are running out of steam,'' Frady said. ''Their spirits are high but physically they're getting worn down.''