Our Deepest Sympathies and Thanks to the Wildfire Fighters in the American Southwest

We in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey collaboration are deeply saddened by the news of the loss of 19 firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, Arizona.

There is a closer connection between astronomy and these hotshot crews than many may know. Fire is the top threat to the observatories of the American Southwest. Our facilities are at dry and remote sites, typically high up in the pine forests that top the mountains. Summer fires are a perennial danger.

While the Apache Point Observatory where the SDSS facility is housed has been lucky to escape direct threat in the last twenty years, several other major observatories have had close calls. That catastrophe has been averted is due largely to the tremendous efforts of the wilderness firefighters and response teams that work to contain these fires and shape them away from inhabited areas. Their skill and strength in combating these fires is truly remarkable.

We don’t know whether any members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots worked on fires near our observatories, but their loss is dear to us nonetheless. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of the firefighters working in the forests of the Southwest for their dedication, and we want to recognize the important role that they play in American astronomy. Most importantly, we want to send our condolences to the families and friends of those lost in this tragedy.

Donations to help the families and coworkers of the firefighters who died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire can be made at the following website:

http://www.prescottffcharities.org/how-you-can-help/

Finally, we want to recognize the important work that goes on locally at our location. Fire prevention is a year-round activity at Apache Point Observatory (APO). APO Site Manager Mark Klaene is a Captain in the the High Rolls Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) and a Lieutenant in the Sunspot VFD. SDSS Engineer Tracy Naugle is a firefighter in the Sunspot VFD, and APO 3.5-m telescope observer Alysha Shugartis is a probationary firefighter in the Sunspot VFD. APO and SDSS specifically thank the Lincoln National Forest branch of the U.S. Forest Service for their efforts to manage the forest around APO and keep our observatory safe.

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