Fire Damages Kitt Peak National Observatory Buildings

 Image (Credit): View from the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope showing the Contreras Fire burning near the summit of Kitt Peak on Thursday 16 June 2022. (KPNO / NOIRLab / NSF / Aura)

Earlier this month, a lightening strike led to a fire in Baboquivari Mountains in southern Arizona, home of the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO). According to news reports, the telescopes themselves are fine, but four “non-scientific” buildings were lost in the fire. Pro-active fire crews were able to prevent greater damage in the area.

This is the latest summary from the blog of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NSF’sNational Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab):

Update 21 June pm: 

Today the area affected by the Contreras fire increased by 4,401 acres to a total of 24,761 acres. Containment increased to 50% according to the Eastern Area Incident Management Team.

The Team reports that fire around the eastern flank of the summit of Kitt Peak National Observatory is now controlled and they expect to have the northern flank controlled today. The fight is not over for our Tohono O’odham neighbors and we are keeping these communities in our thoughts...

According to the NOIRLab site, the site hosts the Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope on behalf of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) survey, the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope, and the facilities of consortia that operate between them more than a dozen optical telescopes and two radio telescopes. Since the start of COVID, the KPNO has been closed to visitors, so the threat to people in the area reduced.

While the mountains of Arizona offer plenty of benefits for observatories, seasonal fires are also part of the deal. Luckily, the fire crews were there in time to keep Mother Nature in check.

Image (Credit): The Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ, (NSF telescopes from left to right) showing the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope, the Visitor Center Levine 0.4-meter Telescope, 0.9-meter, Nicholas U. Mayall 4-meter Telescope, and KPNO 2.1-meter Telescope.  (NOIRLab)