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Wildfire warning to California pilotsWildfire warning to California pilots

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SOCAL Tracon was forced to close
for a time as wildfires threatened.

The devastating wildfires burning in Southern California are also having an impact on aviation. With several very large wildfires not yet under control, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service continue to have FAA issue large temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) over the fast-moving fires to protect fire-suppression aircraft fighting these fires. TFR locations can change rapidly, and there are currently at least seven TFRs active in Southern California in the vicinity of Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino, Fillmore, Ramona, Salinas, and Valley Center.

In addition to TFRs, some general aviation airports are closed to most air traffic in support of the fire-fighting mission. For instance, according to one AOPA member, Santa Paula Airport (SZP) has voluntarily closed to all but firefighting operations. In addition, temporary control towers could be in place at some nontowered airports.

Twenty AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers in San Diego and Los Angeles Basin areas report widespread problems with ash, smoke, limited visibility, and mountain obscuration. Loren Gallagher at Hemet-Ryan Airport says that based VFR pilots have voluntarily limited operations as a courtesy to the heavy fire-fighting operations based there. Several volunteers say their airports are either already within TFRs or they expect to be included soon.

AOPA warns pilots flying in California to check notices to airmen (notams) for these TFRs and airport information before flying. TFR notams are available online.

Besides the obvious dangers of collision with air tankers and air attack aircraft over fires, flying over wildfires pose hazards to pilots that include strong downdrafts and severe turbulence due to smoke columns and marginal visibility. Pilots are warned that when flying anywhere in the West below 2,000 feet agl, firefighting aircraft could be in the area, either fighting a nearby wildfire or flying to and from fire locations. General fire information is available online.

If pilots spot a fire, they should navigate well clear of the fire and give a location report to the nearest flight service station.

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