Search teams scour 21-mile area along the Big Thompson River in Loveland

LOVELAND, Colo. - A crew of 33 people and eight dogs searched a 21-mile area along Big Thompson River in Loveland on Wednesday.

In addition to the searchers from the Poudre and Loveland Fire Authorities, the team includes people and dogs from federal search teams based in Boone County, Missouri and Clark County, Nevada. They're looking for people who could be trapped or killed in the massive debris flow.

"We're doing good, the crews are holding their own. They're working longs hours," said Jason Starck, a battalion chief with the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority. "They're spirits are up and we're just trying to get one task off the list at a time."

"The dogs are trained to alert for live human scent," said Dr. Erin Venable, a K-9 handler with the team from Boone County, Missouri. "What we're doing basically is clearing any spot where a human could possibly be and we’re also making sure we haven’t missed someone who might have been stuck in the debris field."

The dogs are Labrador retrievers and German Shepherd breeds who were trained and certified in a process that takes up to two years. The training includes behavior, agility and search practice.

"By the time these dogs make it to this level, they are literally the best of the best," Venable said.

The large scale of the search provides unique challenges for the dogs, she explained.

"We need to keep dogs happy, need to keep dogs motivated," she said, "So we’ll stop every now and then and just offer dogs motivation."

The muddy, potentially hazardous debris makes it difficult for the searchers and the dogs.

"Obviously mud and silt is the biggest thing," Starck said. "Some of that acts like quicksand. When we step in it, we go down to our waist."

"I was just down in the bottoms with our team and we had to get three of us to get one guy out of the mud," he continued.

Starck explained that a hazardous materials team will be in the area Thursday to handle all the propane tanks and sewage that was swept downhill by the flood.

"We have human waste that's come down from the canyon. We know we have 55-gallon drums and various other primarily oil facilities that have spilled out a little bit. Propane is probably our biggest hazardous material we're trying to deal with," he said.

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