Fires damage Australian observatory

Jan. 14, 2013 at 10:14 PM
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COONABARABRAN, Australia, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Australia's bush fires have claimed another victim as officials confirmed flames have damaged the nation's largest optical telescope facility.

As a wildfire approached the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran 18 staff were safely evacuated but five buildings at the complex suffered significant damage, reported Monday.

The complex, owned and operated by the Australian National University, has been closed, officials said.

"The decision has been made to close the Siding Spring Observatory for an initial two-week period to allow us to carry out a full assessment of the damage caused by the fire and to ensure that the site is safe for staff prior to their return," university Vice President Erik Lithander said.

The observatory is 3,822 feet above sea level on Siding Spring Mountain in New South Wales.

"An initial visual assessment shows that there does not seem to be significant damage to the buildings that house the telescopes," Lithander said. "We do not yet know what impact the extreme heat and the ash might have on the telescopes themselves, and we won't be able to carry out that assessment until we can enter the buildings and we can inspect the inside of them."

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