TFRs: Keeping the airspace safe for firefighting

Example of a recent Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) on the Shovel Creek Fire.

Example of a recent Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) on the Shovel Creek Fire.

The airspace above a wildfire can be a very busy place. Wildfire managers utilize a combination of resources on the ground and air to provide for the safety of the public and firefighters, while protecting communities, property and infrastructure. On large wildfires, the number of air resources in action at any given time can perhaps be best described as a well-choreographed symphony. Air operations is highly orchestrated because oftentimes their involvement can play a significant role during aggressive fire behavior.

A valuable tool to provide a safe operating space for aircraft are Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR), which are put in place so there is a buffer zone of safety for our ground and air crews.

Recent incursions – whether it’s from a drone or private airplanes – have grounded air operations to a halt. The TFRs may not be recognized due to third-party mobile applications glitches that are not tying TFRs to airport designators, thereby not alerting pilots of the Notice to Airman (NOTAM). It is still a pilot’s responsibility to be aware of all TFRs to avoid an airspace incursion, which could lead to fines or other more serious consequences.

Photo of helicopters parked at the Swan Lake helibase near Sterling.

Helicopters are parked and waiting for use at the Swan Lake Fire helibase near Sterling. Photo by Bud Sexton, Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team.

Incursions can have a dramatic impact on the strategy for the day where there is often is a limited window of opportunity for some suppression tactics.

Aviation is utilized in fire operations whenever possible because they can attack the fire with water or retardant in remote locations that cannot be reached by on-the-ground crews. Aircraft can also move personnel, equipment, and firefighters to places far removed from normal transportation routes. They also map fire perimeter and provide a bird’s-eye view on reconnaissance flights that provide fire managers with knowledge of current fire behavior in order to make the best decisions possible. Air tankers, helicopters of different sizes and capabilities as well as water-scooping planes, drones, air bosses, and scout plane can all be in operation on the same fire on the same day.

On the ground, crews love the sound of firefighting aircraft because not only does the air cavalry help to slow or stop fire spread, they also look out for safety concerns to ensure our ground forces are not in harms way during heavy fire operations.

As a fire grows in size and complexity, pilots near the fire area can expect a TFR to be established or modified. There are applications and websites with information on TFR’s, and pilots are encouraged to view more than one source before flying.

Examples of sites for current TFR’s include:


Categories: AK Fire Info

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