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. The next day saw much of Summerhaven destroyed and the fire threatening the Steward Observatory facilities on Mt. Lemmon. Within a few days the Steward Observatory Mt. Bigelow complex was being threatened by this catastophic fire. The extreme threat to the Mt. Lemmon 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 site for more than a week. Helicopter operations commenced one day after the fire's start 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.

Although, the Mt. Lemmon Observatories are less threatened now, the Bigelow observatory is still in danger as firefighters hold a line against the fire only about 1/4 of a mile away from telescopes.

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

The fire's approach after destroying Summerhaven.
The fire's 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.

Steward Observatory sincerely thanks Jim Gratham, Bob Peterson, Manny Jacquez, Bill Wood, Steve Larsen (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 senerio, and for transporting equipment out of danger. SO also would like to thank all of the firefighters for their tireless efforts to save buildings and forest from this horrendous blaze.