27Apr2014

Telescope Burns Down Astronomer’s Home

 Firefighters

Firefighters suspect a 14-inch telescope left outside in sunlight sparked a fire that damaged a suburban home in Arizona. Sounds crazy doesn’t it, but it can and did happen and its a warning for all.

Rural/Metro fire crews responded at about 6 p.m. one night to a report of flames coming from the back of a home in North Long Rifle Drive, Carefree, officials said. The owner of the house, Dick Wilson, said he and his wife had just finished dinner and were watching televsion when they smelled something burning. “We looked at the patio and saw that the ceiling of the patio was on fire,” Wilson said. Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames, and no one was hurt.

As firefighters looked for the cause, they began to focus on the telescope, which had been sitting on a patio, said Colin Williams, spokesman for Rural/Metro Fire Department. “We believe it could be a result from the light of the sun refracting against the telescope,” Williams said.

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Here’s a shot of the burned out ‘scope

In the above pic you’re seeing the top of the telescope there on the left. The corrector plate is broken, most likely due to falling debris. The telescope is shown as it was found, but you can’t say for sure that’s the position it was in when the fire started; note the debris is essentially on top of it. The telescope could’ve started off more horizontal and been whacked by something falling, knocking it into the position we see it here.

Williams described the situation as similar to sunlight directed through a magnifying glass, which can generate enough heat to burn a flammable material. Williams said the homeowner had been told by a friend a couple of weeks ago the telescope had been reflecting a “very bright spot on roof of the patio and that could potentially start a fire.

“Wilson said it appeared the fire began in the area where the light was reflecting. “Initially, I thought it was far-fetched,” Wilson said. “But that is very possible. The sun could have gone down at the right time, hit the face of the reflector, and hit the ceiling of the back patio porch.”

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A telescope mirror or lens can direct sunlight onto a concentrated point, raising the temperature enough to get the tinder to ignite.

Fire officials said a similar situation occurred a few weeks prior when Rural/Metro received a call at a small fire at an apartment complex in Cave Creek. Apartment workers had been working with solar tubes, which contain highly reflective materials. Sunlight reflected off the tubes, which was suspected to have possibly set a fire to nearby boxes, Williams said.

Williams said fire officials at the time had not confirmed the telescope caused the fire. Wilson and his wife were forced out of their home after much of the roof was destroyed by flames, but planned their return 12 months later. Wilson said he bought the 14-inch Celestron telescope as a new hobby for he and his wife. Adapted from: Azcentral