updated 3/19/2007 12:48:26 PM ET 2007-03-19T16:48:26

Fire officials expressed concern after a string of early season wildfires around Reno, including one that destroyed a home and damaged eight others on Saturday.

The latest blaze also forced about 40 families to evacuate homes and a partial closure of Interstate 80. No injuries were reported.

The fast-moving brush fire was at least the third such blaze in the Reno area over the last month, and another sign that the region is facing a busy fire season ahead, said Reno Fire Department Battalion Chief Curtis Johnson.

A string of wildland fires also has swept through Southern California this year, including one that destroyed the Malibu home of Suzanne Somers.

"The wildland fire season is way early this year. You wouldn't expect fires like that in the winter," Johnson said Sunday. "It's really scary conditions for this time of year. We have June or July conditions right now."

A dry winter and a week of record high temperatures have combined to dry out a heavy growth of flammable cheatgrass and create hazardous conditions, Johnson said.

Precipitation in Reno and the snowpack in the nearby Sierra are running at about 50 percent of average for the date.

The latest fire scorched about 20 acres after being fanned by wind gusts of up to 20 mph and another day of unseasonably warm weather.

80 degress in Reno
Saturday's high of 78 matched Reno's record high for the date set in 1972. Last Monday's high of 80 degrees snapped the old record of 75 degrees set in 1888 — the earliest Reno has hit 80 degrees in recorded history.

"It's no mystery why we've been having these wildfires," said National Weather Service forecaster Alex Hoon in Reno. "That's one of our concerns for this summer: How is the weather going to affect the fire season?"

Last year, more than 1.4 million acres — or nearly 2,200 square miles — of Nevada burned. Most of the damage was in rural Elko County, which saw an emergency hunt of deer and antelope.

Fire officials said the fires are a reminder to property owners to create defensible space by clearing vegetation around homes.

The home destroyed Saturday had a "large amount" of juniper trees around it that went up in flames and spread to the structure, Johnson said. Flames tore through the attic of a nearby home, and seven other homes had minor damage.

The fire also burned up to a shopping center, and prompted the evacuation of some businesses.

The blaze broke out in a ravine and was pushed upslope to homes by winds, Johnson said.

The fire believed to be human-caused was under investigation.

The other recent Reno-area wildland fires were small and caused no damage to homes.

Earlier, a post-Christmas wildland fire quickly spread over more than 200 acres in the hills above nearby Sparks, but burned away from homes before it was slowed by incoming rain.

On Nov. 11, another wildfire narrowly missed some upscale Reno homes before it was put out by a mixture of rain and snow.

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