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Evacuating Kitt Peak Observatory: What employees tried to save

Evacuating Kitt Peak Observatory: What employees tried to save
Posted at 8:08 PM, Jun 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 23:08:43-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Employees from Kitt Peak National Observatory are nervously watching the Contreras Fire. They had to quickly evacuate, leaving behind tens of millions of dollars of equipment.

Joe Hoscheidt has worked on the telescopes on Kitt Peak for the last 15 years.

"About noon on the radio, they said ‘We got a call for evacuation, we need everyone off the mountain in a couple hours,'” said Hoscheidt, Mountain Operations Supervisor.

He and five employees were at the Observatory when they were called to evacuate. The fire moving quickly.

“That was very stressful because we had the overhead crane out, we were moving big pieces of equipment so we divided and conquered,” Hoscheidt said.

It was up to them to bring down as many of the expensive and fragile instruments as they could. That included smaller cameras like this one. Hoscheidt says these are one of a kind and can cost millions of dollars. More important to him, was the sentimental value.

“My old boss passed away from cancer about a year ago, and he was the manager up there," Hoscheidt said. "I didn’t want to let him down, I’ve been helping cover since he’s been gone. I didn’t want to let him down.”

Hoscheidt’s team could only save a small percentage of the equipment. But fire crews say that all 27 telescopes seem to remain intact.

“They’re still not sure how long it’s going to be until we can go back, they don’t know how long it’s going to be until we can send anyone up there,” said Joanne Flores, Telescope Operator.

Four facilities were damaged or destroyed, including one dormitory, where Flores used to sleep.

“I’m hoping in the next few weeks to be able to help clean up if anything, even if that’s shoveling my old dorm into a trash bag,” Flores said.

Despite uncertainty, Hoscheidt believes it’s all downhill from here. With maybe some help from his old boss.

“I feel like maybe he pulled a few strings for us, if we make it through this,” Hoscheidt said.

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Perla Shaheen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Perla graduated in May 2020 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in Political Science. Share your story ideas and important issues with Perla by emailing perla.shaheen@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.