Frye Fire threatens international observartory

Map perimeter Frye Fire

Above: A 3-D map of the perimeter of the Frye Fire at 11 p.m. MDT June 17, 2017. The base satellite image is from June, 2011 and appears to show in the foreground, east of the fire, a previously burned area.

(Originally published at 8 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017; updated at 11:25 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017.))

The Frye Fire grew close to the Mt. Graham International Observatory 62 miles northeast of Tucson, Arizona Sunday afternoon. The Southwest Geographic Area Coordination Center reported that in mid-afternoon the Type 3 Incident Management Team ordered 7 large (heavy) air tankers and one very large air tanker.

Large Binocular Telescope
Large Binocular Telescope, Mt. Graham.

Photos from the webcam at the observatory showed evidence of retardant drops near the facility, which is the home of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) and other very expensive instruments.

As of Saturday night the fire had burned about 9,000 acres, but by Sunday afternoon we estimate that it has grown by at least another 2,000 acres.

Mt. Graham International Observatory fire
A webcam at the Mt. Graham International Observatory captured this photo at 6:53 p.m. MDT June 18, 2017.

Until late Saturday the fire had been burning mostly uphill on the very steep mountain slope 8 miles southwest of Safford, Arizona, but it has now slopped over onto the west side of the mountain range.

Critically low relative humidity and extreme high temperatures continue to contribute to increased fire activity. On Sunday the temperature was well over 100 at the lower elevations, and it is predicted to reach 110 to 112 each day through Friday June 23. The relative humidity will be 8 to 10 percent. It will be very breezy through Friday except for Wednesday.

photo smoke from the Frye Fire
A satellite photo of smoke from the Frye Fire in southeast Arizona, at 5:45 p.m. MDT, June 18, 2017.

The lightning-caused fire is not being completely suppressed according to the Team:

An indirect strategy is being taken to confine and contain the fire within the previous burn scar, to provide firefighter safety from the numerous snags, rough terrain and numerous downed logs. Fire personnel are assessing values at risk and options to limit high-severity fire effect to forest resources. Firefighters are monitoring fire behavior and growth and will take appropriate action if fire threatens any values.

Firefighting resources assigned to the fire on Saturday included 9 hand crews, 11 engines, 6 helicopters and a total of 306 personnel. Approximately $1.1 million has been spent to manage the fire.

The Team reported on June 17 that “21 additional personnel with unknown illness were demobilized.” UPDATE: 45 people were diagnosed with strep throat at the Frye Fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.