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SYDNEY: Australia’s top research observatory, which houses telescopes used by scientists from around the world, was damaged by a large wildfire yesterday as hot weather and storms stoked dozens of new blazes.
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, issued an emergency warning for an out-of-control fire that scorched the Siding Spring Observatory, a remote global research facility.
“This is a large and dangerous bush fire. It is burning in the area around Timor Road near Siding Spring Observatory,” the RFS said.
It said two properties in Timor Road had been destroyed and part of the observatory was damaged by fire. The extent of the damage was unclear.
All observatory staff were evacuated before the fire and were safe.
Siding Spring, a mountaintop site in the Warrumbungle Ranges about 500km north-west of Sydney, houses 10 operating telescopes run by Australian, Polish, British, Korean and American researchers. Administered by the Australian National University’s research school of astronomy and astrophysics, Siding Spring is the nation’s major optical and infrared observatory and one of the top facilities of its kind in the world.
A university spokeswoman said all observatory personnel had been confirmed as “safely evacuated and accounted for”.
Crews were battling difficult conditions, with temperatures in the area above 40 degrees Celsius and hot northwesterly gusts of about 60km per hour.
The fire was burning across a four-kilometre front, with a strong southerly pushing the flames to the north and northeast as night fell.
A partner observatory at Canberra’s Mount Stromlo was destroyed by wildfires in January 2003 that killed four people and razed more than 500 homes.
Five telescopes, residences and more than a dozen buildings were ruined in the Mount Stromlo inferno.