An Expedition 31 crew member aboard the International Space Station, flying… (NASA )
From Montana to New Mexico, record-setting wildfires are charring mountains, valleys and houses, leaving behind a heady toll of about 1,000 homes lost — a number that may only increase through a punishingly hot and dry summer.
The Waldo Canyon fire on the outskirts of Colorado Springs — which recently climbed into national headlines by forcing tens of thousands of evacuations — has engulfed at least 346 homes, and firefighters have it only 45% contained.
But that fire is just one of many destructive conflagrations this season as the United States progresses through an era of increasingly bigger and more destructive blazes.
PHOTOS: U.S. wildfires 2012
"We haven't been at this demand in a long time, if ever," Jim Fletcher, coordinator of the U.S. Forest Service's firefighting command center, told the Los Angeles Times' Tony Barboza.
The Waldo Canyon fire’s title as the most destructive in Colorado history belonged briefly to this summer’s High Park Fire, which left 259 charred homes in its path — a number that may rise as officials continue to assess the damage now that all evacuation orders have been lifted.
Records have also fallen in New Mexico, where the Little Bear fire destroyed more than 240 homes to become the most destructive in state history. It outpaced even the massive 300,000-acre Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire that obliterated a record for acreage burned in the state earlier this year. Whitewater-Baldy is still burning, although it's 87% contained.
In Utah, the Wood Hollow fire — one of four fires burning in the state’s mountainous, forested center — has destroyed 52 homes and killed one person. Montana’s Ash Creek Complex fire has torched at least 16 homes. The Charlotte fire near Pocatello, Idaho, has destroyed 66 homes in just three days.
And the Arapahoe Fire in Wyoming has torched “a number” of buildings, though officials didn’t know how many because it is still too dangerous to get a precise count. The fire's growth potential was considered “extreme” and, as with the other wildfires charring the west, the battle to put it out will be fought on challenging terrain and in tough heat.
Together, these fires — which is not a full accounting of the dozens that have singed the West this year — have destroyed nearly 1,000 homes.
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