[Currents headergraphic]

June 22, 1999

Fire damages building at Lick Observatory

Early-morning blaze is contained before it reaches adjacent astronomical equipment

By Jim Burns and Tim Stephens

An early-morning fire on June 22 in the Main Observatory Building at UC's Lick Observatory was contained before spreading to astronomical equipment at the historic Mount Hamilton facility. The fire was extinguished by the Lick volunteer fire department shortly after 8 a.m., approximately one hour after the blaze was reported by Lick employees on their way to work.

[Photo of t-shirts drying  in the courtyard after the fire in the gift shop at Lick Observatory]
T-shirts drying in the courtyard after the fire in the gift shop at Lick Observatory. More photos of fire damage.
Photo: Sheryl Severinsen

The fire, which began in a storage room adjacent to the gift shop in the main building, caused major damage to the storage room and some damage to the gift shop and its inventory. The preliminary estimate of damages was set at $100,000.

"Our preliminary indication is that the cause of the fire was electrical in nature," said Chuck Hernandez, UCSC fire chief.

Lick administrators said the fire will keep the main building, the site of regular tours, closed to the public until Saturday, July 10. Other previously scheduled events will still be held in the interim, including "Music of the Spheres" concerts scheduled for July 9 and 10. In addition, the 120-inch Shane telescope, which is housed in a separate building, will continue to be open during regular visiting hours.

Observatory officials had initially anticipated reopening the main building on June 26, but as the repair work began staff realized more time would be needed, said the observatory's assistant director Maureen McLean.

In addition to the gift shop, the main building houses the Anna Nickel 40-inch reflecting telescope and the 36-inch Lick refractor telescope, neither of which were damaged in the blaze.

For more information, please call (408) 274-5061 or (831) 459-5936.

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