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Snakes, mine shafts challenge crews battling Arizona wildfire

Fire crews are battling five separate wildfires across Arizona, with the largest spanning more than four square miles. The blazes damaged several buildings and have forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

Updated 1:45 p.m. ET -- Firefighters trying to protect a historic mining town in northern Arizona were told to expect extreme conditions Tuesday, with temperatures in the 80s and gusts up to 35 mph that could fan an out-of-control wildfire. 

Crews are facing additional hazards as well: snakes and abandoned mining shafts.

Snakes were a problem at a past fire in the area, Karen Takai, spokeswoman for the fire team, told msnbc.com. No one has been bitten so far, she said, but "we know that could be an issue in this area."

Procedures call for any bitten firefighter to be taken to a local hospital for anti-venom.

As for mine shafts, "there are a lot ... that you don't see because of the amount of brush," she said. 


Add rugged terrain to the mix, she said, and conditions are "extremely difficult."

The National Weather Service also issued a "red flag warning" Tuesday for northern Arizona, southeast Nevada and southern Utah.

Burning south of Prescott, Ariz., in the Prescott National Forest, the wildfire that started Sunday has scorched an estimated 1,700 acres of ponderosa pine and chaparral, and threatens some 350 homes in Crown King.

Tourists who had been in the town left when a mandatory evacuation was ordered Sunday, while homeowners were allowed to stay as long as they remained on their property.

Some 300 fire personnel were already at the scene, and the first of 400 more are coming in Tuesday, Takai said. Six air tankers worked Monday to douse hot spots, and those flights will continue Tuesday.

Two buildings and one trailer have been destroyed, Prescott National Forest spokeswoman Debbie Maneely said.

The blaze, still at zero percent containment, started at a "structure" and was human-caused, she said.

Greg Flores, president of the Crown King Chamber of Commerce, said he helped a couple and their dog flee was the fire "fully engulfed" their home. 

"There were flames over 100 feet tall when we got up there," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Flores and his wife fled their home around 2 a.m. Monday when ash began raining down. They spent the night on the floor of his business and have since been able to return home. 

Flores added that the fire had turned a ridge black, destroying much of the forest there. 

Report: Busy fire season expected due to droughts

Crown King is located in the mountains more than 85 miles north of Phoenix, where the fire created a haze over the city on Monday.

The fire was one of several in Arizona since the weekend. They are the first major wildfires in Arizona this year, after a record 2011 season in which nearly 2,000 blazes scorched 1,500 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Another wildfire more than 120 miles northeast of Phoenix was five percent contained Monday evening.

On the San Carlos Apache Reservation, in eastern Arizona, a fire caused by lightning charred more than 1.7 square miles of ponderosa pine, juniper and oak.

A fire on the Fort Apache Reservation burned 575 acres of brush and grassland and threatened a fish hatchery.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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