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Historic wildfires spawn rash of TFRs

Wildfires, some burning in complexes of historic size in Northwestern states, are exerting their effects on health and safety far beyond their ever-changing boundaries during the dry, hot summer of 2015. That has made it important for residents to keep tabs on the situation from news outlets and official sources providing information on a range of safety subjects from air quality to road closures and evacuation orders.

For pilots, a critical component of gathering information for flight in or near areas affected by the wildfires is to know the status of the many hazardous condition temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) that have been established to provide a safe environment for firefighting aircraft operations.

The Northwestern U.S. and Canada have been especially hard hit by wildfires. In embattled Washington state alone, on Aug. 26 the FAA listed 14 hazard TFRs in effect—four of them newly created—and most carrying an expiration date far in the future because of the uncertainty of firefighting progress. Six hazard-related TFRs were in effect in Oregon as of that morning. 

Pilots should make careful note of a TFR’s airspace definition, the section of a notam that states the location of the TFR’s center (for example, a DME fix on a radial from a vortac), the TFR’s effective radius, and the altitude (in mean sea level) to which it extends.

Pilots flying near the wildfire areas should note that direct aerial attacks on the blazes are not the only kind of aviation activity involved in the firefighting effort. Mapping the perimeters of wildfires is also conducted from aircraft. Such operations may take place on short notice after a change of wind direction removes smoke from a previously obscured area, allowing the area's perimeter to be rechecked..

AOPA urges pilots to update TFR information frequently and avoid violating restricted airspace, for safety and to assure the uninterrupted operation of aerial firefighting. Also note that maintaining visual flight rules may be difficult or impossible in smoke-induced conditions of reduced-visibility, even at a considerable distance from mapped fire complexes.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airspace, Notams, FAA Information and Services

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