A brush fire that has been designated the Contreras Fire is burning near Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in southern Arizona. The Fire began on a remote ridge of the Baboquivari Mountains, north of the Baboquivari Peak on the Tohono O’odham Nation on Saturday, 11 June 2022. It is burning grass and brush in steep and rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to access. Hot and dry winds from the south/southwest are pushing the fire to the north/northeast predominantly. On Monday 13 June there were about 500 acres consumed by the fire, and by Wednesday the fire covered more than 6,600 acres moving through the drought-stressed vegetation. You can find information on the fire’s evolution here.
With the fire moving towards Kitt Peak, the NOIRLab leadership made the decision to shut down the telescopes and send non-essential staff down the mountain, while a skeleton crew completed the safing of telescopes, equipment, and observatory infrastructure. Tenants and other users were notified and assisted in their shutdowns. Wednesday afternoon, an evacuation order came from Wildland Fire Incident Command, and remaining staff left the mountain at 4:45 pm MST.
Today a crew of firefighters is on the summit, with multiple engines. They are in close regular contact with leadership and KPNO safety staff. Hydrants have been tested and fire hoses deployed. The firefighters are dropping large amounts of fire retardant on the southern end of the observatory in an effort to slow the advance. In addition, the fire fighters are focusing on removing brush on the slopes and have spotters watching for hotspots.The key instruments have been covered with protective wraps and other packaging. The optics on the large telescopes have been covered to protect them from smoke and falling ash.
The NOIRLab leadership is closely monitoring this event and will continue making the necessary decisions to keep staff safe, and protect the facilities as much as possible. Safety remains our top priority. AURA and NOIRLab are grateful to the firefighters working hard on the mountain. Follow NOIRLab on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates on the status of Kitt Peak.
NSF’s NOIRLab (National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory), the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the international Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSF, NRC–Canada, ANID–Chile, MCTIC–Brazil, MINCyT–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (operated in cooperation with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai‘i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O’odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.
- Contreras Fire information
- Fire Information for Resource Management System Map of the Contreras Fire
- Kitt Peak National Observatory Webcams
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