Press Release

University of Arizona Observatories Came Through Aspen Fire OK

By SpaceRef Editor
July 13, 2003
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TUCSON, Ariz. – There are still a few hot spots burning and a lot of
smoldering debris in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, but
astronomical observing sites on Mount Lemmon and on Mount Bigelow “came out
of this quite well,” Bob Peterson of the University of Arizona Steward
Observatory said in an e-mail message that circulated throughout the
observatory this morning.

“Actually, our two sites look to be some of the greenest areas on the
mountain,” said Peterson, who is site manager for the Catalina observing
stations.

Peterson and Jim Grantham, general maintenance supervisor for Steward
Observatory, deserve a great deal of credit for working with the U.S.
Forest Service to help save the facilities, said Buddy Powell, Steward
Observatory associate director.

Peterson and Grantham mounted a successful rescue mission to remove
computers and scientific equipment from telescope domes before the fire
reached the sites. They also juggled heavy equipment from site to site,
depending on the fire conditions, to ensure that equipment, fuel tanks, and
tires would not add to the inferno of the Aspen Fire.

Grantham, who this year obtained his fire-fighter “red card” that allowed
him to work in hot zones, worked at the Mount Lemmon site when the fire was
less than 100 yards away from the observatory. Grantham worked every day
since the fire started on June 17, often 16 hours a day. He often slept at
the observatory to make sure firefighters and helicopters had access to the
more than 900,000 gallons of water in Steward Observatory storage tanks.

“All of us at the University of Arizona hope both Bob and Jim will be able
to enjoy a long, restful weekend soon,” Powell said. “They both deserve our
deep appreciation for a job well done!”

The observing sites will run on generators for the next two-to-six weeks,
according to latest estimates. Astronomers might begin observing on the
61-inch telescope on Mount Bigelow as soon as next week, Peterson said.

The sky may be the only thing that looks familiar to observers.

“As you drive up the mountain past Molino Basin towards the Prison Camp, it
is like you are in a black-and-white movie,” Peterson said. “All you see in
every direction, as far as you can see, are shades of gray — no color at
all, only ash. The mountain has changed dramatically. Almost every drainage
on the mountain has had some burning. Flash floods and mudslides will be a
problem for years to come.”

Observatory personnel are supporting the Burned Area Emergency
Rehabilitation effort, he added. On Wednesday, two full semi-trailer trucks
unloaded tons of grass seed at the Mount Lemmon site, and an estimated
14,000 bales of straw will arrive soon.

The Forest Service will use the Mount Lemmon observatory site as a base for
re-seeding upper mountain areas by helicopter, Peterson said. Crews will
stay in an observatory dormitory.

“It will be years before the watershed is stabilized,” Peterson said.
“There is a lot of work to do, and volunteers are needed.”

People who want to volunteer for the recovery effort may call 520-885-7405
or check http://www.volunteertaskforce.org/aspenbaer/index.htm on the
Internet.

Telescopes on Mount Lemmon include the Steward 60-inch, the University of
Minnesota 60-inch, the Steward 40-inch, a Korean 40-inch, a 20-inch infrared
telescope, and small telescopes. Steward’s 61-inch Kuiper Telescope and the
recently upgraded 30-inch Schmidt telescope used by Stephen Larson of the
Lunar and Planetary Lab for the Catalina Sky Survey are sited on Mount
Bigelow.

Other users of the facilities include Aerospace Corp., Arizona State
University, the UA Astronomy Camps, Boston University, Brookhaven National
Laboratory, Colorado State University, Global Atmospherics, the NASA Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Korea Astronomy Observatory, NASA Ames Research
Center, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Arkansas, the
University of Minnesota, the University of Rochester, and U.S. Air Force,
and Lithuanian observers hosted by the Vatican Observatory Research Group.

In addition to astronomers, UA researchers who use the Santa Catalina range
include scientists in entomology, geosciences, optical sciences, the School
of Renewable Natural Resources, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, and
others.

SpaceRef staff editor.