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Contreras Fire moves through Kitt Peak Observatory

Damage assessment pending. Fire now U.S. #1 Priority wildfire
Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-17 21:18:59-04

THREE POINTS, Ariz. (KGUN) — The Contreras fire is still uncontained, and challenging firefighters to control it. The fight is so difficult the fire is now rated the number one priority to wild land fires in the entire U-S. Part of the priority is the Kitt Peak Observatory—in the path of the fire.

We are still trying to learn a better damage assessment of what happened to the observatory. At last report crews were still there concentrating on mop up.

The fire hit the observatory about 2 a.m. burning hot enough to break through lines of fire retardant air tankers dropped to try to shut the fire out.

But firefighters were waiting for the blaze, hot shot crews and crews on fire engines meant for structure fires were already at the observatory. Firefighters say the Observatory staff routinely took firewise precautions like clearing large buffers around buildings so fires have less fuel to carry flames up to the structures.

The value of the observatory and the tough conditions are part of the reasons the Contreras Fire is now the national firefighter system’s number one priority.

Clark McCready is Public Information Officer for the Eastern Arizona Incident Management Team. He says, “What that means is that if we need additional resources, we're at the top of the list. And that's a tremendous asset in terms of trying to order resources and you consider some of the other fires that are going on in the landscape and the resources that they need. And now that we are number one that gives us a great opportunity to get those resources we need.”

The priority treatment will allow for more air assets, and more foot crews are arriving to take on the fire.

Not a lot of people live here but Thursday night fire commanders decided they better play it safe and evacuate a small Tohono O'odham village called Pan Tak. The fire did not actually reach there.

Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 30 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.