BOULDER, Colo. —Firefighters encountered a tangle of rattlesnakes, downed power lines and combustible propane tanks Wednesday as they struggled to get an upper hand on a wildfire that has destroyed dozens of homes.
About 3,500 people have been evacuated from about 1,000 homes since the 6,168-acre fire broke out in a parched area north of Boulder on Monday. Four people remained missing as residents stayed behind and risked their lives to try to save their homes.
The blaze has burned 140 structures — including at least 53 houses. The figure is expected to rise as authorities survey more of the fire area, which covers about 10 square miles.
Firefighters used cooler temperatures and cloud cover to attack the wildfire but authorities acknowledged they still don't have control of a blaze that could become one of the most destructive in Colorado history.
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Kevin Klein, the director of Colorado's Division of Fire Safety, said structural losses from the fire may exceed the count in the state's 2002 Hayman fire. That fire was the most destructive in the state's history, destroying 133 homes and 466 outbuildings, but it burned across 138,000 acres of more sparsely populated land.
Air tankers dumped 35,000 gallons of fire retardant on the blaze and crews began building containment lines on the eastern side of the fire. The large plume of smoke the fire had been producing since it started Monday dissipated because of the favorable weather. However, the fire was still actively burning and threatening structures, forcing some deputies doing an inventory of the damage to retreat.
Laura McConnell, a spokeswoman for the fire management team, said as many as 300 firefighters are at the fire and more are on the way. She said they're dealing with downed power lines, debris, poison ivy and rattlesnakes. They also have to be watchful for propane tanks in the area.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Rick Brough said the conditions make it too dangerous for residents to check on their homes.