Smoke from a wildland fire seems to draw general aviation aircraft much the same as the flame from a candle will draw a moth. It is just human nature to go take a closer look. The unwitting pilot approaching a smoke column that seems to be out in the middle of nowhere is probably unaware that he or she is about to enter some of the most congested airspace on earth; and that it is more than likely protected by a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR). Wildfires are the number one generator of TFRs in the United States and they are put up solely for the safety of the pilots engaged in fighting the fire. After a fatal mid-air collision involving two airtankers over a fire a couple of decades ago, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) decided to establish standardized rules for aircraft operating over a fire. At that time the Fire Traffic Area (FTA) was born. An extended attack fire may have a dozen or more aircraft operating in the airspace above it at any one time so it was essential that these rules be established. It is the responsibility of the Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) to provide clearances in and out of the FTA and provide proper separation for both fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft in the area. As the activity over a fire ramps up, it is normally the duty of the ATGS to establish a TFR over the incident. It only takes a call to dispatch followed by a request to the Federal Aviation Administration and the TFR can be in place in less than thirty minutes. If the unknowing general aviation pilot penetrates the TFR without a clearance not only are they creating safety concerns but more than likely legal issues also. A check of NOTAMs and TFRs should always be included in flight planning but keep in mind that a TFR could have been established after you became airborne. To be safe if you see smoke stay well clear and be extra vigilant for aerial firefighters going to or from the fire.]]>