Flight restriction put in place for Lost Horse Creek Fire

Adrian Peterson explains how a flight restriction is impacting local air routes.
Published: Aug. 12, 2023 at 11:38 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On Aug. 2, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Dept. of Natural Resources put out a temporary flight restriction over the air space of the Lost Horse Creek Fire.

As dense smoke and fire response vehicles enter the sky the level of risk posed to pilots grew rapidly as did the Lost Horse Creek Fire. As crews responded rapidly in an effort to protect the Haystack Subdivision, the need to utilize aerial resources became clear.

Once the responding firefighters began to put in a dozer line, there was a non-stop group of fire planes dropping fire retardant. With the short intervals of travel, immediacy of the situation and increasing smoke filled sky, the Division of Forestry, part of the DNR, put in place a temporary flight restriction or TFR “What we currently have in place for our TFR, which is in place at this moment until Sept. 9, it’s going to have a five mile radiu to go around,” said Brandalyn Vonk, a public information officer with the Alaska Green Team. The TFR also has a an altitude restriction from sea level to 6000 feet above sea level.

“We put that in place over a fire and its surrounding area anytime we’re utilizing aircraft on our fire,” said Vonk, which is managing the response to the Lost Horse Creek Fire. “That is for the safety of our aircraft as well as the safety of our fire fighters on the ground. It also protects other pilots as the likelihood of an in air collision increases with reduced visibility caused by smoke.

To create the TFR, a location inside the fire is selected as a center point for the radius of the restricted air zone. Then the perimeter of the TFR is drawn, sometimes taking the shape of circle and other times different polygons.

This restriction impacts all aerial vehicles, from planes and helicopters to ultralights and drones. The only exception for the restriction are the fire resources, medical and law enforcement. These three groups are allowed to use the air space because it’s a matter of public safety and because they all coordinate with each other. This is important because the air space is controlled by an air operations team on the ground, rather than the air control tower at the airport.

Operations at the airport however, are not impacted by the TFR, only potential flight routes. “It is fine to take off and Land at the airport, but if they encounter that airspace that has a restricted flight zone, they encouraged to go around it,” said Zak Mitchell, a public information officer for Fairbanks International Airport.

With a 6000 foot altitude restriction, smaller aircraft are most impacted, but all aircraft are required to avoid the area. “Should an aircraft come into our TFR, whether it’s an accident or on purpose, what happens is we shut all of our air operations down,” Vonk said. This is an important issue because it creates both a safety issue, but it also delays necessary fire response activity.

It is however the duty of all pilots to check conditions and restricted air space and know what areas to avoid.

The original TFR for the area was set to end Sept. 1, but due to increased demand to utilize aerial resources, a second TFR was put in place ending the 30-day restriction on Sept. 9. “We can create a new TFR if we need to make changes to the parameters,” said Vonk. “We can also rescind that TFR at an earlier date.”

Updates on flight restrictions can be found on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website.