Former NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins has urged the federal government to invest in Viking ‘super scooper’ aircraft to help the country tackle worsening bushfires.
Speaking on the Australian Aviation Podcast, Mullins said state fire services currently “won’t touch them” because of their huge costs but warned the country must try new tactics to prevent another Black Summer crisis.
You can listen to the episode above, or on your favourite device here.
The Viking ‘super scoopers’ (technically the CL-415 and 215 variants) are specialist firebombers, particularly suited to heavily forested areas.
The amphibious aircraft can literally scoop up 5,455 litres of water in just 12 seconds from a water source, as opposed to the slower turnover times of more traditional models using buckets or hoses.
However, each super scooper is thought to cost more than $40 million, a figure that alone dwarfs current federal and state aid.
Mullins also urged the federal government to finally follow the bushfires royal commission’s recommendation to invest in a sovereign aerial firefighting fleet.
“The fires just become worse and worse,” said Mullins. “And it’s very clear to us that the climate is changing and we’ve reached a tipping point with bushfires worldwide.
“We’ve seen this year Siberia burning, Greece, Italy, Spain, California, Canada, and that’s off the back of heat waves that killed hundreds. So they’ve got these massive fires and they are behaving differently.
“And what frightens me is that I went to California in October 2019 to the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and the firefighters over there are saying exactly the same thing.
“We don’t know how to fight these fires. Our traditional tools such as hazard reduction burning, back burns and attacking fires at night don’t work anymore in the worst conditions.
“Fires will burn through hazard reduced areas unless it was burnt the last 12 months. Back burns get away from us, and fires are burning overnight because the humidity stays down and the wind stays strong because of changes to weather patterns.
Mullins talks about the issue in his new book, Firestorm: Battling Super-Charged Natural Disasters and is also a co-founder of the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action group, composed of 33 former fire and emergency service chiefs.
The group has previously attacked the government for not taking the findings of the bushfires royal commission seriously.
The technically titled Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was first proposed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February 2020 and was headed by former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, leading environmental lawyer Andrew Macintosh and former ADF chief Air Chief Marshal (Ret’d) Mark Binskin.
The commission received more than 1,700 submissions and heard from more than 290 witnesses.
The most significant recommendation was the call for a new “sovereign aerial firefighting capability” that can be easily shared between areas in need. However, no such fleet has yet to be formed.
Meanwhile, the ELCA group released its own report in July 2020, which argued that Australia needs to radically change its bushfire strategy to concentrate on extinguishing blazes when they’re still small. The investigation also said the country must invest in automated sensors that can allow for the immediate deployment of firefighting aircraft.