July 18, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
Wildfires fanned by dry winds were burning homes and triggering evacuations in eastern and central Washington state, as officials responded with firefighting efforts staged from three of the state’s 16 state-run airports. One of the airports was ordered closed to the public during the emergency, and pilots were urged to check the status of others before flight.
In a news release, the Washington State Department of Transportation urged pilots to review notices to airmen, and check for temporary flights restrictions (TFRs) before flying to state-managed airports during the wildfire emergency. (On July 18, several TFRs were in effect in areas where wildfires were burning.)
WSDOT announced that it had temporarily closed the Lake Wenatchee State Airport in Leavenworth to all but emergency management aircraft, designating the 2,473-foot turf airstrip a staging area for emergency-response helicopters and personnel.
Methow Valley State Airport in Winthrop, and Tieton State Airport in Yakima were serving as staging areas for firefighting helicopters. Two military helicopters—a Blackhawk and a Chinook—were operating from Methow Valley State Airport, WSDOT said.
In addition to urging pilots to check notams and TFRs, WSDOT advised them to contact the agency’s manager of airports, Paul Wolf, "prior to flying to state-managed airports."
As the fires raged, news reports said hundreds of homes were burning, with large-scale evacuations of hospitals, residences, and in one case, the entire town of Pateros, population 650, taking place.
Electrical outages were reportedly widespread as power lines were consumed by fires. Closures of portions of some major roads added to the toll.
An Associated Press report that appeared July 18 said tens of thousands of acres had been burned by the wildfires. Dry and hot weather conditions were expected to continue, it said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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