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Nothing’s changed one year on from bushfire report, says ex-fire chief

written by Adam Thorn | October 28, 2021

Dunns Road bushfire
RFS crews head into the Dunns Road bushfire. (RFS Riverina Zone)

A former deputy fire commissioner of NSW has said “not much seems to have been done” a year to the day since the Bushfires Royal Commission report was published.

“We don’t think much has changed since the fires of 2019-20,” said Jim Smith. “We don’t feel any safer than we did before.”

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The technically titled Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements released its final report 12 months ago. Its 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, with the federal government’s formal response being that it simply “notes” the recommendation.

Smith, a former Deputy Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, was speaking in his capacity as a member for Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA), a campaign group composed of 33 former fire and emergency service chiefs.

“Many people are living in fear of the next fire,” said Smith. “Without emissions reductions this decade, it’s just going to keep getting worse. At the very least, every recommendation of the Royal Commission should be implemented.”

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Fellow ELCA member Greg Mullins, a former NSW fire commissioner, added, “Those of us that hold hoses and are in the direct firing line of climate change impacts are still waiting for the government to show that it is taking the royal commission’s report seriously.

“The federal government has completely dropped the ball on addressing the commission’s recommendations. To protect Australians, the government must now enact the steps outlined in the recommendations without further delay.

“They must also tackle the root causes of worsening bushfires and other extreme weather, by committing to much stronger emissions reductions this decade while moving rapidly away from coal, oil and gas.

“No more excuses. As the world gathers for COP26 in Glasgow, we must commit to shifting to a clean, resilient economy. We can’t wait for another Black Summer to be on our doorstep before we act.”

Mullins appeared on the Australian Aviation podcast earlier this month, which you can listen to above, and also urged the federal government to invest in Viking “super scooper” aircraft.

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.

The 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.

4 Comments

  • Tony

    says:

    What is the agenda being played out here? Why are ex-urban top brass being given airtime on this when they probably contributed to the problem? I actually thought, as an on-the-grounds firefighter during that period, we were just plain lucky things weren’t worse. And not because of climate change, but simply because the level of accumulated fuel reduction over many years before the fire season was abysmal, dare I mention the word negligent. All you needed was hot and dry weather and you knew it was going to be a really bad fire season. The powers that be responsible for land and fuel management got off extremely lightly from the RC and climate change was given the blame/as a major cause. Climate has consistently changed over the centuries…a given and further influenced by man-induced changes. If that is the case and known, why were fuel loads so dangerously high so close to urban boundaries and environmental areas of importance? That is a question Mr Smith and Mr Mullins should be asked to answer given it was during their period of tenure where the fuel loads were building dangerously and policies were being set for fuel hazard mitigation.

  • Mac Carter

    says:

    Scooper Scoopers appear to be a good idea, but they are only effective should a large fresh water lake and or dam is in fairly close proximity to the fire.
    Fight be fine for the Snowy Mountain area, with it’s several large man made lakes.
    However, for the rest of the nation, where could the Super Scoopers refill by skimming the surface of said man made lake?
    With respect to the traditional light water bombers operation from some of the smaller regional airports, can those vested with the responsibility for same, provide updated information with respect to the Tumut Airport runway lengthening, strengthening project as well as the provision of water supply for refilling water bombing aircraft?

  • Jeff

    says:

    Major hazard reduction not done for so long is the cause- not climate change.
    Fire needs fuel to burn- remove the excess fuel on the ground and half the problem is solved.
    As a a country boy 75 years old now we did very diligent hazard reduction as we had no one to turn to in fire emergency.
    Stop banning burning!!!

  • ROBERT STANLEY FRANCIS

    says:

    This is a copy of an email sent to Greg Mullins on Oct9, so far no reply. If Greg wants a Sovereign Aerial firefighting fleet this is the only way to do it. The government can spend $100 million on F35 aircraft that hopefully will never be used, the job of the armed forces is to keep Australia safe from any enemy….Bushfires are our biggest enemy,.

    Robert Francis
    Attachments
    Sat, Oct 9, 2:26 PM
    to info

    Refer to Greg Mullins, author at Climate Council

    The only way to effectively manage the bushfire problem is to hand over all aerial firefighting authority to the RAAF, it has the expertise, man power, facilities and personnel to fight these fires with aircraft at squadron strength. The recent fire on Fraser Island shows how not to manage a fire, after 8 weeks the fire was still out of control, destroying 87000 hectares of heritage listed island, the only thing that put it out was heavy rain, it seems that the Qld approach to bush fires is to pray for rain.
    Two squadrons ( 12 aircraft per squadrons) of the new CL-515 water bombers could have put out the fire on the first day, they would of had a continual drop of 6 tonnes of water one aircraft after the other, by the last aircraft has dropped its load the first aircraft would be back after filling up its tanks from the Great Sandy Straits or filling up at the Hervey Bay airport.
    Out of control bushfires are now a fact of life, it’s about time something positive is done to control these fires, Air Forces in other countries such as the Spanish Air Force (17 water bombers) and Croatian and Moroccan air forces can operate these aircraft, why not our’s?
    33 lives lost and $4.5 billion dollars worth of damage to homes and infrastructure in one fire season alone, one thing is certain – it will happen again.

    Regards Robert S Francis
    Tin Can bay Qld.

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