TV Broadcast Towers Survive Tucson Forest Fires

Like many mountaintops in the West, the area around Mount Lemmon near Tucson Ariz. is home to TV and FM radio stations and other communications facilities. On Tuesday, June 17, fire was observed burning on the south face of Marshall Peak at an elevation of about 8,000 feet. Two days later, strong winds pushed the fire northeast, destroying homes in the community of Summerhaven and across the Mount Lemmon Highway and over the crest of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Two towers on Radio Ridge, east of the University of Arizona observatory, were heavily damaged. Communication and power lines in the area were also damaged. One report said KGMG 106.3 was off the air.

The Tucson Citizen reported that TV towers on Mount Bigelow and TV towers on Soldier Peak were not affected by the fire, but most are running on backup power. Some stations could go off air if they are unable to refuel generators at their transmitter sites.

For details on communications sites damaged and threatened and quotes from site owners, see Communicators Toting up Losses in the Millions by Oscar Abeyta and Irwin M. Goldberg in the June 21 Tucson Citizen. The article reported director and general manager of KUAT-TV Jack Parris estimated the KUAT site had enough fuel to last about four days. In the article, Steve Somerville, Chief Engineer for KGUN-TV said the station had about 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel, which he said was enough to last up to 14 days.

The Southwest Area Incident Management Team Aspen Fire Information Web site reported Sunday night that the fire had grown to 11,400 acres and was only five percent contained. In a lesson to other mountain top tower owners in fire prone areas, the report noted, "Several towers have been protected by clearing brush and installing sprinklers."