A raging forest fire “mostly delays” in Keith Peak National Observatorywhich remains too dangerous for astronomers to check what part of the area has been damaged, officials said in an update Monday (June 20th).
Although initial estimates show that all telescope domes remain upright, the Arizona facility remains an “active firefighting” area, with air and firefighting efforts continuing from aircraft and helicopters to both the observatory and neighboring communities. from the National Optical Foundation of the National Science Foundation Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), which runs the observatory, said in statement (opens in a new section).
“It has not yet been possible to visit the observatory with a damage assessment team to assess the condition of the telescopes,” officials wrote. “The whole observatory is still considered too dangerous and is only open to firefighters.
The image 1 on 6
As of Saturday (June 18th), Keith Peak’s staff have been “cautiously optimistic that the worst may be over”, although NOIRLab officials said firefighters said the mountain was at risk for about a week more.
Firefighters said that while all the telescope’s domes remained upright, at least four non-scientific structures (meaning dormitories and other supporting buildings) were lost on Friday (June 17th), the NSF reported.
“Astronomical facilities and instruments appear intact, but assessments of equipment damage will only begin once conditions allow safe entry into the area,” officials wrote in an update Sunday (June 19th).
As of Monday (June 20th), the fire in Contreras has been raging on 20,360 acres (nearly 8,240 hectares) and has risen by about 8% since the previous day, NSF reported, and has been controlled by 40%.
“IN [firefighting] Today, the team said the fire was mostly in Keith Peak, but there are still significant resources committed to protecting the site, “NOIRLab officials wrote Monday.” We are deeply grateful for their tireless efforts.
#Contrerasfire UPDATE June 20: Active firefighting remains close to @KittPeakNatObs In the last 24 hours, the affected area has increased to a total of 20,360 acres. According to the Eastern Zone Incident Management Team, 40% of the fire was contained. https://t.co/mQ6lEpKtMZ (1/4) pic.twitter.com/Ex31fTRs2JJune 20, 2022
NOIRLab officials said the assessment of the damage from the fire is likely to take weeks, while it may take even longer to rebuild infrastructure such as powering the site.
Kitt Peak is home to one of the largest collections of astronomical instruments in the United States and is located among dense bushes and steep terrain, making the area difficult for firefighters to navigate.
Forest fires are generally increasing in frequency and intensity due to continued global warming caused by humans.
Other observatories have also encountered significant fires in recent years. Examples include the huge California fire that is coming in just a few miles away from the Allen Telescope of the SETI Institute (Search for Alien Intelligence) in September 2021 and a forest fire approaching very close to Mount Wilson Observatory, also in California, in September 2020.