The blazing fire “caught” a lot at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, which is still too dangerous for astronomers to determine the extent of the damage, officials said in a Monday (June 20) review.
Although initial tests suggest that the entire telescope still stands, the Arizona center remains a “functional fire station.” Air-fighting efforts continue with airplanes and helicopters over the viewing area and neighbors, officials from the National Optical National Science Foundation’s National Optical- Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NOIRLab), which oversees the observatory, said in a statement.
“It has not been possible to visit the testing center with the damage team so far to assess the condition of the telescope,” officials wrote. “The whole viewing area is still considered extremely dangerous and is only open to firefighters.”
As of Saturday (June 18), Kitt Peak workers “had high hopes that the worst case scenario had passed,” although NOIRLab officials noted that firefighters had seen the mountain in danger for about a week.
Firefighters have reported that although all the telescope houses are still standing, at least four non-scientific buildings (i.e., dormitories and other support structures) went missing on Friday (June 17), the NSF said.
“Astronomical and metallic resources appear to be complete, but mechanical damage tests will only begin if conditions allow it to enter the area safely,” officials wrote in a recent statement on Sunday (June 19).
As of Monday (June 20), the Contreras Fire has spread to 20,360 hectares (approximately 8,240 hectares) and has grown by about 8% since yesterday, reports the NSF, and contained 40%.
“The [fire brigade] team today reported that the fire broke out in Kitt Peak but there are still important resources available to protect the area,” NOIRLab officials wrote on Monday. “We are very grateful for their tireless efforts.”
NOIRLab officials have indicated that inspecting the damage caused by the fire could take weeks, while it could take longer to re-establish infrastructure such as local electricity.
Kitt Peak is home to the most extensive collection of star tools in the United States and is located between a tight brush and a steep slope, making the area challenging for firefighters to navigate.