Are we ready for another Black Summer?

“I have to say, even we were gobsmacked by just how bad it turned out to be”

Australia’s Black Summer killed nearly 500 people, including three American aerial firefighters. But two years on, and following a royal commission, what has changed? Adam Thorn speaks to the key figures trying to revolutionise our bushfire response in the air

You can make a very good argument that Greg Mullins knows more about fighting bushfires than any Australian who’s ever lived.
He grew up in semi-rural Terrey Hills, inland from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and every summer, there were fires. When smoke was on the horizon, dad, a volunteer firefighter, would dart over the road to the station, leap into the old truck and off he’d go until it was extinguished. When he returned, blackened and smokey, a young Greg would bombard him with questions. “I was probably five or six when I decided I wanted to be a firefighter,” he tells me. Not that it took him that long. One day in 1977, aged 12, his brother’s best friend called the Mullins household to say he could see a fire approaching his house – but both parents were away. With the brigade too far to help, dad took matters into his own hands, hurrying out to the garage and loading an axe and shovel into the family car. To his mother’s horror, he took Greg, too. They saved the home after hours of battling the flames between them that night. “All around us, the bush was alive with orange sparks, burning logs and trees,” he wrote later in his autobiography. “It actually looked quite beautiful.”

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