It is the time of year out west that brings fires – lots of fires. The forests and mountains of the west are part of a constant natural cycle of rebirth that requires forest fires to provide the nutrients and space for new growth. Humankind has done much in recent years to fight many of the larger fires – especially those that threaten civilization or developed structures – but many of these fires are too large and remote to ever fully contain them. We do what we can, and let nature take its course with the rest.
The reason this came to mind is a recent flight I made from our Reno-area home to Portland, Oregon to do some test flying. I was level in legal VFR conditions at 10,500’, yet from just north of Reno to the Eugene, OR area, I could hardly see the ground – there were no clouds, just lots of smoke and haze. In spots, I could see areas of fire – but mostly, the broad smoke was a combination of many fires spread across Northern California.
Sprinkled throughout all this smoke were TFR’s put up to allow the air tankers and fire fighting operations to continue without having to worry about non-involved traffic rumbling through the low visibility and risking a mid-air collision. Flying in this gunk is hard enough – if they have to worry about traffic, it becomes nearly impossible to do the job safely.
For those of us transiting the area, flying high is a good bet (most TFRs aren’t that high), and puts us out of the smoke. But it also means that there are not a lot of options should things go wrong and we need a place to set down. Of course, much of this vast forest wilderness offers few “outs” even when there are no fires – a good reason to know how to use the “Nearest” button on your GPS – and maybe deviate just enough to keep a highway in sight. With the fires of summer – it is that much harder.