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Frye Fire Has Close Encounter With Mt. Graham Telescopes

Published: Saturday, June 24, 2017 - 5:05am
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The Frye Fire has burned tens of thousands of acres southwest of Safford, some of them uncomfortably close to Mount Graham International Observatory.

Firefighters have worked to confine the Frye Fire to the burn scar of the 2004 Nuttall Complex Fire, which also threatened Mount Graham’s three telescopes but never advanced quite so close.

“We had, I would say, probably around 400 acres which burned, and really close to the observatory, south of our site, probably coming within 200 yards of the telescope,” said Christian Veillet, director of the Large Binocular Telescope.

That telescope stood farthest from the fire and escaped unscathed.

But the heat might have warped the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope telescope’s metal shell, and smoke and soot, which can harm instruments, might have drifted inside.

“Nobody really went inside, which means that they could still have some damage, either from the heat or from the smoke. But for now, nobody really knows, so they will have to wait to have the door open again to be able to come and check what happened there,” Veillet said.

As for the Heinrich Hertz Submillimeter Telescope, its damage seems limited to the lovely pink paint job it received courtesy of some airdropped fire retardant. Veillet said it was a small price to pay.

“You know, save the site, you don’t care about painting buildings, right?”