It was disappointing to read the article by Greg Mullins that was published in the Sunday Telegraph on Sunday 20th Jan 2019.

Mr Mullins is a well respected and long serving Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW. That respect was attacked by many readers as they posted comments on social media after reading the article.

From a VFFA perspective, it was disappointing that Mr Mullins failed to address the issue of FUEL loads as he blamed climate change for the wildfire problems we are facing.

The VFFA has always stated that “regardless of where any individual sits in the climate change debate, there can be no doubt that large fuel loads result in larger fires”.

I would like to go one step further by saying that proper land management that includes cool burning has the potential to save the environment and save us (fewer property losses and massive monetary savings). When asked if adding fire is desirable, I state that fires are natural occurrences when lightening strikes, perhaps we should not have been putting those out in the past (when fuel loads were not as bad as they are today).

Feel free to add your own comments and thoughts after this article.

Greg Mullins: Australia faces ‘new normal’ of year-round bushfires

Greg Mullins, The Sunday Telegraph

I’ve been battling fires for almost 50 years. In 1971 I worked alongside my dad as a volunteer firefighter in the northern Sydney suburb of Terrey Hills.

During my career, I rose to become Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, a position I held for almost 14 years. I’m now back serving on the frontline where I first started as a volunteer.

Over half a century I’ve been burnt, lacerated, gassed, bruised and broken.

I bear mental scars that aren’t as easily fixed as the physical ones.

People often ask me whether fighting fires scares me. The truth is, like most of my colleagues, I rarely think about the dangers when I’m focused on getting a job done. I must admit though there is something that frightens me and many other firefighters.

It’s climate change.

Bushfires are occurring at different times of the year, at times that are not classed as part of our usual bushfire season,
Greg Mullins writes. Picture: John Grainger

Extreme bushfire conditions in Australia are becoming worse as our climate warms. My dad saw it coming way back in 1994. He was a man who observed the natural world closely.

I remember him describing the 1939 heatwave when “the sky seemed to be on fire every night”.

Dad taught me a lot of bushcraft over the years; how to recognise the possibility of an approaching bad bushfire season by noting the times that certain trees flowered, certain insects arrived, and how there seemed to be weather cycles — 7 years, 11 years, 21 years.

But in 1994, during the massive NSW bushfire emergency, I remember him shaking his head and saying: “Something’s really wrong. You just can’t predict the fire seasons anymore.”

Of course, he was right. He didn’t have a name for it but what he was observing was the result of a changing climate. In NSW in 2018 there were only two months where we didn’t have fires.

Homes were lost on the far south coast at Tathra at a time when the fire season should have been winding down, rather than producing the worst fire weather ever experienced there.

In April, after the official danger period, a fire scorched its way through south western Sydney. Major fires started in August with the earliest ever declaration of a Total Fire Ban in early September. None of these events are “one-offs” — they are part of a sustained, worsening trend.

I fought fires in California in 1995 and the resource base of fire engines, helicopters, large water bombers and people was enormous.

Despite this, according to my colleague, Ken Pimlott, who recently retired as the head of CalFire, these resources are no match for the year-round fire season they now face. The reason I fear the future? Like California, we in Australia also face a “new normal”.

The baseline temperature has increased, night-time temperatures have increased, and fires often exhibit behaviour, even at night, that is uncontrollable.

Former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner Greg Mullins.
Greg Mullins is now a Climate Councillor.

We are experiencing a significant increase in the number of days of Very High fire danger and above, and fires are burning in areas that should never burn, at times when there should not be fire.

Fire agencies, including the sadly depleted National Parks services in almost every state and territory, are struggling to deal with this new reality.

Firefighting strategies and tactics have changed just in the past few years with both NSW and the Victorian governments leasing heavy waterbombers from the northern hemisphere, something we never used to do; and the Australian Government has now recognised the need nationally.

There are more Very High fire danger days now than in the past.

Overlapping fire seasons between the two hemispheres are making the regular exchange of firefighters and specialist equipment more and more difficult.

When I retired I wanted to continue serving the community, so I went back to where I started as a volunteer firefighter in Terrey Hills.

Another opportunity came along recently — to work with the Climate Council. I grasped this opportunity because I believe it is my duty to explain to people that climate change is not something that might cause problems in the future. It is affecting all of us right now. Decisive action on climate change is crucial.

During my career I saw strong, principled, disciplined and informed leadership, with a dash of courage thrown in, on many occasions at fires, disasters and major emergencies.

The same sort of leadership is needed from our elected representatives in order to protect us from an uncertain future.

The price of inaction will increasingly be paid in lives lost and communities shattered. That’s not a price that any of us should be prepared to pay, and I expect our leaders to step up.

Greg Mullins, AO, AFSM, Climate Councillor and former Commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW

Comments from Telegraph

Raymond: What a load of codswallop

Kevin: Summary – “I put out fires and my dad said it’s getting hotter = expertise in the physics of not just global climate patterns, but solar variations and their consequences in a chaotic system”.
You’re welcome.

Daryl: What a ridiculous assertion. The vast majority of bush fires that have resulted in loss of lives and property were started by people, either deliberately or by accident.

Mark:A shame to end a lifetime of service as a mouth piece for the climate change crowd.

On the bright side sea level rise might extinguish these hell fires if we are to believe all this stuff.

John: Retiring as FRNSW Commissioner, he would have to be on a very very comfortable super / pension for life yet he wants to stick his nose in the Climate Change Council’s financial trough & spruik their rot. Spare me….and Tim (It’s never going to rain again) Flannery is the Council’s Chairman? I’m bent over LMAO

Warwick:Seriously. You are basing your assumptions on the anecdotal evidence of your father said something was wrong. Really. 

Margaret:So the fact that councils, under the thrall of the Greens and assorted other nutters, refuse to do what sensible councils did in the past and burn back in winter and clear fuel from forests is not worth a mention.

We know the climate is changing but it seems a convenient excuse for the kind of nonsense that is perpetrated by those who should know better. Instead of preaching this mantra I would have admired your service had you taken on local councils to do their job.

Robert:Greg. Thank you for your service to the community. Whilst the climate is important and may have influence, what about the constant development of housing further into areas of risk

Stephen North of Sydney: I appreciate your efforts to fight Mother Nature when fire is her weapon of choice to clean her house .You should have a clear understanding of how it works after all of those years . The Climate crowd got you , show us where the temperatures have increased enough for you to make those claims, and I’ll agree with you . Until then, please retire, and be grateful you were not seriously injured playing with fire. 

A:Please save us from idealogues like this bloke!
When I was growing up the fuel load was continually being managed. Now there is not a fraction of the fuel reduction burning. The climate is no different now than it has ever been, but rules that prevent fuel reduction are very different. So now when it does burn the damage is much worse making it much easier for these blokes to justify their existence. 

Gary: Agree there A, just had the bush near me back burned after 30 years of fuel build up

John:Bushfires rely on 3 things, heat, oxygen & fuel. You can’t get of the first two but you can remove the third & where there’s no fuel there’s no fire. Simple

Kevin:The other factors you’ve left out are that more homes are in risky areas and those homes and their contents are much more valuable, making the effects seem so much greater.

Sorry Mr Mullins – what about FUEL?
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13 thoughts on “Sorry Mr Mullins – what about FUEL?

  • January 23, 2019 at 12:04 am

    A disappointing report by Greg Mullins ,as mentioned ,fuel is a big problem, by not having enough burn OFF”S, we have crazy people out there who light fire’s in bad weather we also have, FIRE BUG”s. We had to advance to Planes as with the fuel and weather conditions its to big for humans.,

    You also mentioned Tathra fire that should not have happened someone should be paying for that as help was offered and was knocked back Someone was playing Politics. You of all people should have a better grasp of the problem.
    Tony Abbott is out fighting fire’s and his approach .was plant more tree’s this is best solution as Climate ‘s don’t understand money and that’s what the believers want to do.
    Throw Millions of dollars at it and make the Australian people pay dearly fo no Results. Brian

    If the help offer had been taken up it would have been a different out come.
    I can’t believe a man of your standing and experience could come up blaming ,The Ozone layer ,Global warming , Climate change, our state has always been a drought problem state and will always be if we don’t start building dams

  • November 7, 2019 at 3:07 am

    I would also like to know Greg Mullins’ ideas and views about fuel load and prescribed burning, and those of his compatriot retired chiefs. I am personally in fact sceptical about the value and wisdom of prescribed burning, all things considered, and would be interested to know what such very experienced firefighters think about this… I wonder about the relevance of moisture content of vegetation, long term effects, effects upon ecosystems and biodiversity, and also the potential for fire retardant vegetation to be utilised and managed to help prevent and control fires

  • November 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    From Johns River NSW. Listen to Greg Mullins. The rest are blowhards.

  • November 16, 2019 at 6:15 am

    We have plenty of respect for Mr. Mullins but the fire triangle is basic science.
    Less fuel must equal less fire.
    These wildfires can be greatly reduced with “cool burning” and the winner will be the environment.
    Mick Holton

  • December 20, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Ridiculous that you call it a “climate change debate”, the science has been settled years ago, except for in the right wing media & minds of deluded conspiracy theorists. I think if you look at Greg’s comments regarding the inability to perform hazard reduction due to increased temperatures year round you’d see he acknowledges fuel load as an issue.

  • December 23, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    To the Daily Telegraph, Mr Mullins denied any abuse & bastardisation of fireman occuring while he was stationed at No 1 stn Headquarters. Hung from the ceiling stripped naked C platoon branded on your arse & many other discusting sexual assults. I’m an Ex fireman from HQ in the 70’s & he must have walked around with his eyes closed. It happened to me & many others while serving there & those in charge turned a blind eye. Believe anything Mullins says? Not likely.

  • December 31, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Your C Platoon branded arse is one of the most hilarious non-sequiturs I have had the pleasure of seeing on the internet. Thank you for the story. However, it has nothing to do with the reality that the science of human caused climate change has been proven by tens of thousands of studies and over one hundred fifty years of sound science.

    Of course, there are problems with fuel loads in Australia, California and the western U.S. It’s not climate change versus fuel loads. Higher fuel loads and warmer drier weather have combined to cause fires that go totally out of control until the winds die down and the humidity increases.

    Thanks to all fire fighters for risking their lives for the common good.

  • January 3, 2020 at 10:47 am

    The reason the fuel load is so high?

    The climate was not favourable to cool burns.

    Burns could not occur.

    You are looking at symptoms instead of the cause.

  • January 3, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Regardless of the ‘climate change’ debate and fuel loads, a solution must be sought to manage the bushfire problem. We seem to be reactive rather than proactive in this situation. I lived in Gosford for many years in a bushy area in suburbia and I was unable to walk through the bush at the back of my home due to undergrowth. I had three towering gum trees in my backyard that, if ignited, would have destroyed my home; all three trees were within 10m of my home. Nothing was possible in terms of protecting my property due to local government policies. I witnessed the destruction of Mt White in 1994 and the close shave of Kariong, the closing of the Pacific Highway. I felt burning embers on my skin as I cleaned up my yard of leaves in 1994. I was lucky.
    Unfortunately, I returned recently (2019) and noted that no hazard reduction had occurred so fuel loads have been growing steadily now for 30 years. Eventually, the area will ignite and God help those who live there.
    I now live on the Mornington Peninsula and am not so encumbered by bushland where I live, but….I await the eventual fires that will occur further down the peninsula. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
    I do not envy the task facing the firefighters and wish them good luck and safety.

  • January 7, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Mr Mullins, and his group have a better grasp of the situation than most.
    One element that i heard him mention in an interview on 4th Jan which really doesn’t get analysed properly in this discussion is the term “Available Fuel load”. Which by definition is the stuff that will burn in the conditions on the day, which is different to ground fuel load. Ordinarily Rainforest has no fuel load because all the leaf litter is wet and the leaves on the trees dont have the oils to burn like eucalypts. But when you have prolonged drying because of climate change the litter is dry enough to burn and the leave on trees have dried right out. This now means that an ecosystem which should never burn now has a huge fuel load. This is because of climate change, it is not just a normal consequence of droughts. and hazard reduction burns can NOT alieviate this problem.
    Further evidence that hazard reduction burns are not the silver bullet, In his interview he spoke of one of the areas near where i live that had a catastrophic fires in September, removing all ground cover and much of the canopy. This same area burnt in November when a larger fire coming from another direction came through again, and the fire was still very intense. There is also a video on facebook of this same area and it flaired up a third time. All of this is because a burn (regardless of intensity) will always scorch leaves and timber, which will then become fuel.
    The conclusion of all this is that burning to reduce fuel load is only effective in the right conditions. Namely, its cooler weather and you have GUARANTEED rain to promote leave growth and ground cover growth.
    I suggest VFFA consider sharing news articles with real facts such as
    Something else i must bring up, I have only recently come accross the VFFA website in my search for more balanced opinions of all matters regarding the current fire catastrophes, and I am quite amazed that every news article you share is Murdoch news (generally opinions as opposed to facts) and not balanced with ABC, SBS or Guardian style articles with genuine fact checking and quoting of sources.
    Because of this I’m dubious as to who is behind the VFFA organisation, and why they are only interested in spreading right wing opinion instead of thoroughly researched facts on all matters relating to fire management. The commenters on some of your recent articles have provided far more researched fact than the original Murdoch article.

  • January 8, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    So if we blame climate change 100% what are we going to do about it. It has been stated that if Australia reduced emissions by 100% it wouldn’t make one iota of difference to climate change. Even if the whole world cooperated the problem is not going to be fixed next week, next year or before the fire hazard becomes severe again. Stop the bickering and come up with ideas that will reduce the danger. Seems to me that reducing the fuel load is the only real option. How it is done is the decision to be made. Any ideas apart from burning?

  • January 10, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    A very sensible response and comment.

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