updated 5/3/2006 2:59:21 PM ET 2006-05-03T18:59:21

Following several fires in recent days, federal firefighters are predicting a nasty wildfire season matching or surpassing last year, when a record 500,000 acres burned in southern Nevada.

"What you're looking at is continuation of the fuels from last year," Mark Blankensop, a U.S. Forest Service fuels management specialist, said Tuesday of the growth of invasive weeds such as red brome and cheatgrass that choke out more fire-resistant native plants.

"It's like gasoline," he said during a briefing at the Bureau of Land Management fire station in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas.

The weeds turn tinder-dry in dry, hot weather — ripe for fueling fires sparked by lightning, stray bullets, fireworks, discarded cigarettes and hot catalytic converters on the underside of vehicles, officials say.

Troy Phelps, assistant fire management officer for the BLM Las Vegas field office, said wildfire season got off to an early start Friday with a human-caused fire that burned 24 acres off U.S. Highway 93 between Interstate 15 and Alamo. The fire is under investigation.

Phelps said the more than 500,000 acres of public land that burned in southern Nevada made 2005 the worst year ever in the region. The worst year for the entire state, he said, was 1980, when 1 million acres burned.

On Sunday, lightning strikes ignited two separate trees on Mount Charleston's Angel Peak. Those fires were later brought under control.

Lightning struck again Monday night on Mormon Mesa in southern Lincoln County, causing two wildfires, including a 40-acre blaze in a remote wilderness of the Mormon Mountains that was expected to grow Wednesday. That could bring the combined burned areas in Clark and southern Lincoln counties to about 100 acres.

Phelps said crews were watching the Mormon Mesa fire, in a remote area about 70 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

"If it grows out of that area, we'll suppress it," he said.

Another 20-acre fire in the Mormon Mountains was contained Tuesday by firefighters flown by helicopter into an area that is inaccessible by vehicles.

Earlier in the day, a one-quarter acre fire on National Park Service land near Boulder City was quickly snuffed by firefighters, officials said.

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