Now, Greg Mullins has written a book about his experience as a bushfire fighter in Australia, including being part of the battle against some of the most devastating bushfires in the world.
His book, Firestorm,1 is far more chilling than anything that I went on to write, or to read for that matter. Furthermore, his book is factual. This is no work of imagination. This is not fiction.
This is a chilling account of how bushfires (all around the world, not just in Australia) are becoming more intense, more frequent, with longer “seasons,” and much, much harder to control. With fifty years experience, Greg Mullins asks: ‘Why?’
His answer is simple and to the point: climate change. During a research visit to California in the mid-1990s Mullins was introduced to early scientific papers on climate change by the Captain of the Oakland Fire Department. Mullins has read many papers since, and talked with dozens of experts.
But it is primarily his experience and witnessing of the changes in bushfires that leads him to make the clear connection between a warming planet and these changes.
If Greg Mullins could find a word that means “the unprecedented increase in unprecedented events” then I assume he would have used it in his book. The word – unprecedented – occurs often in his book. And not without reason.
Mullins lists, and expands upon, many of the unprecedented events and patterns associated with bushfires in Australia.
There can few more knowledgeable and experienced bushfire experts in the world than the author of this un-put-downable book. He was the Commissioner of New South Wales (NSW) Fire and Rescue from 2003 until retiring in 2017 (the second longest serving since the service began in 1884.) Since his retirement he has returned to bushfire fighting as a volunteer with the brigade with which he began his long career in 1973.
Greg Mullins has received many awards, including the Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM) in 2001 and Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2018. He knows what he is talking (writing) about.
In 2019 he was a founding member of Emergency Leadersfor Climate Action (ELCA.) He writes in the book about the founding of this group of former chiefs and deputy chiefs of fire services and other emergency services from throughout Australia. He also outlines their frustration at not being able to take their warning of coming bushfire disaster to the Australian government (and Prime Minister in particular) before the cataclysmic fires of 2019/20 (referred to as Black Summer.2)
The chapter on Black Summer is the central chapter in the book. It tells in grim reality of the devastation of those fires: 24 million hectares burnt; more than 3,000 homes destroyed. Plus, thousands of other schools, shops, and farm buildings; 35 people directly by the fire, and a further 417 killed by the smoke, as well as 4,500 hospitalisations; and up to 3 billion (yes, you read that correct – billion) animals killed. It was – unprecedented.
When Black Summer did occur, Mullins and others were still side-lined (sometimes ridiculed by shock-jock radio hosts and other media commentators). They were told: “This is not the time to talk about climate change.”
If then was not the time, then when is, Greg Mullins could be forgiven for asking. Certainly, his book is an outstanding contribution to the time to talk.
1. Greg Mullins, Firestorm: Battling Super-charged Natural Disasters, Viking, Australia, 2021
2. Black Summer began in late July/early August 2019 and continued until May 2020. The statutory NSW Bush Fire Danger Period (bushfire season) runs from 1 October until 31 March. Black Summer extended that season considerably.