Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona tribal community evacuated for wildfire

Jun 17, 2022, 12:42 PM | Updated: 1:07 pm
(Inciweb Photo) (Twitter Photo/@KittPeakNatObs) (Twitter Photo/@KittPeakNatObs) (InciWeb Photo) (InciWeb Photo) (InciWeb Photo) (InciWeb Photo) (Facebook Photo/Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Center) (Twitter Photo/@KittPeakNatObs) (Twitter Photo/@KittPeakNatObs)

PHOENIX – The Kitt Peak National Observatory and a nearby tribal community in southern Arizona have been evacuated because of an encroaching wildfire, authorities said.

The observatory was evacuated Thursday, and the Pan Tak community on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation was moved to “GO” status of the emergency response system on Friday.

The Contreras Fire was caused by lightning on a remote ridge of the Baboquivari Mountains about 60 miles southwest of Tucson on Saturday. It has doubled in size since Wednesday and was measured at 11,489 acres on Friday, with no containment.

The flames have been moving north, toward the observatory and Pan Tak, consuming grass and brush in rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to reach.

The fire reached the observatory site on Friday. Officials were working with firefighters to assess the damage.

More than 300 personnel were assigned to fight the Contreras Fire as of Friday’s incident management report, with seven crews, 12 engines and five water tenders. Five helicopters were assigned Friday for air support.

The Kitt Peak Visitor Center has been closed to the public since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kitt Peak National Observatory, a program of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, was founded in 1958. The site has more than 20 telescopes, the largest of which, the Nicholas U. Mayall, is 18 stories tall.

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Kitt Peak Observatory, Arizona tribal community evacuated for wildfire