June 17, 2022

University of Arizona Statement on Contreras Fire on Kitt Peak

TUCSON, Ariz. — 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.


UArizona media contact:
Buell Jannuzi
Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory


NOIRLab media contact:
Amanda Kocz


The University of Arizona, a land-grant university with two independently accredited medical schools, is one of the nation's top 50 public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report. Established in 1885, the university is widely recognized as a student-centric university and has been designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. The university ranked in the top 20 in 2020 in research expenditures among all public universities, according to the National Science Foundation, and is a leading Research 1 institution with $761 million in annual research expenditures. The university advances the frontiers of interdisciplinary scholarship and entrepreneurial partnerships as a member of the Association of American Universities, the 66 leading public and private research universities in the U.S. It benefits the state with an estimated economic impact of $4.1 billion annually. For the latest on the University of Arizona response to the novel coronavirus, visit the university's COVID-19 webpage.

The University of Arizona Land Acknowledgement