University of Arizona statement on Contreras Fire on Kitt Peak

aerial view of Kitt Peak National Observatory

In this aerial view of Kitt Peak National Observatory, three of UArizona's five telescopes on the mountain can be seen grouped close together on the left just below the summit: the 1.8-meter Spacewatch Telescope, the SuperLotis Telescope and the Bok 2.3-meter Telescope.


Early Friday morning, the Contreras Fire reached the Kitt Peak National Observatory, the location of several astronomical facilities managed by the University of Arizona Steward Observatory. Kitt Peak National Observatory, or KPNO, is operated by NOIRLab, the National Science Foundation's center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy.

"We are in close contact with the NSF's NOIRLab leadership, who are in direct contact with those leading the firefighting efforts," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "They are providing updates as information becomes available.

"We are grateful to all who are working to fight the fire and help protect the facilities while keeping everyone safe. We are also proud of our staff who did their best to prepare our facilities before they were ordered to leave the mountain on Wednesday."

The Contreras Fire began Saturday, June 11, on a remote ridge of the Baboquivari Mountains, north of the Baboquivari Peak, which is south of Kitt Peak National Observatory on the lands of the Tohono O'odham Nation. It was triggered by a lightning strike and exacerbated by rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to access. Retardant efforts have had limited success because of heavy smoke, high winds and extremely dry fuels. 

By Thursday, June 16, around 11,500 acres were burning. The decision was made to clear a line of trees and brush below the southern ridge; that was mostly completed before evening. Clearing also occurred around individual domes, critical infrastructure and flammable propane tanks. High-capacity planes dropped fire retardant on major areas of the fire. Power was shut off to the site Friday morning for safety reasons. The road to the summit, State Route 386, is closed.

Around 2 a.m. Friday morning the fire, contrary to the expectations of fire crews, crested the southwest ridge where the Hiltner 2.4-meter TelescopeMcGraw-Hill 1.3-meter TelescopeVery Long Baseline Array Dish and the University of Arizona 12-meter Telescope are located. Because of the ongoing nature of the situation, it is not yet possible to assess whether any damage to the structures has occurred.

The temperature in the Tucson region has over the past days reached 105 degrees. The weather is forecast to be partly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms possible Saturday. 

Visit the Incident Information System website for updates on the Contreras Fire.

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