Department of Astronomy and the Steward Observatory
The University of Arizona in Tucson Arizona
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2003 "Aspen" Wildfire in the Catalina Mountains

On June 17, 2003 the "Aspen" wildfire erupted just south of the town of Summerhaven in the Catalina Mountains. By the third day much of Summerhaven was destroyed and the fire threatening the Steward Observatory facilities on Mt. Lemmon. Within a few days the Steward Observatory Mt. Bigelow complex was also being threatened by this catastrophic fire. The extreme threat to the Catalina Observatories has diminished thanks to the firefighters of the US Forest Service. Jim Grantham (Catalina Site Supervisor for Steward Observatory) has been assisting the US Forest Service at the Mt. Lemmon since the fire started. Helicopter operations commenced one day after the start of the fire and the Mt. Lemmon facilities have been used as the base for these operations. At times the summit of Mt. Lemmon has been defended by as many as 120 firefighters.

During the first week of the fire, Jim Grantham was able to take pictures of the fire and its effects from Mt. Lemmon.

The fire's approach after destroying Summerhaven.
The fire gets very close to the observatory.
Outside the gates.
Back-burn operations around the summit (1) and (2).
The fire heads north.
Views uphill (back towards the observatory) and downhill from the SO water pump house after the fire had passed.
Helicopter operations.

Sincere thanks go to Jim Grantham, Bob Peterson, Manuel Jacquez, Bill Wood, Steve Larson (LPL), and Eric Christensen (LPL) for their efforts in assisting the US Forest Service during this emergency, preparing both observatory sites to best survive the worst-case scenario, and for transporting equipment out of danger. Of course, thanks also go to all of the firefighters for their tireless efforts to save buildings and forest from this horrendous blaze.