Up to 18 houses were destroyed by fires in south-west Victoria at the weekend. (ABC News: Yvette Gray)
Lawyers are planning a class action against power company Powercor over at least one of the weekend’s devastating bushfires in south-west Victoria.
It comes as Victoria Police arson and explosive detectives report the cause of all four of the blazes involved powerlines.
The fires in the Gazette, Garvoc and Camperdown regions were originally thought to have been started by lightning strikes, as wild winds and unstable weather struck the region on Saturday night.
Up to 18 houses were destroyed in the fires along with 52 sheds, and at least 14,000 hectares of land was burnt.
Maddens Lawyers has confirmed it is speaking to affected property owners, who claim the Garvoc fire started from a power pole.
Fire never should have happened, lawyer says
The Warrnambool firm’s class action principal Brendan Pendergast said the firm had had a fire-start expert examine the seat of the fire and the power pole.
He told the ABC’s Statewide Drive there was no doubt in his mind that is where the fire emanated from.
“It started as a result of the pole failure,” Mr Pendergast said.
He said the fire was avoidable and should never have happened.
“This pole has obviously been identified as being structurally compromised.
“It had been patched up by attaching semi-circular sleeves to the pole. So that is sort of a band-aid means of extending the life of the pole.”
Power poles ‘snapped’ in strong wind gusts
Jack Kenna’s wife Betty believes one of the fires started on her property when a power pole snapped in half in ferocious winds. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
Jack Kenna lives at the Sisters near Terang, and said the blaze started on his farm.
“I believe it started with a pole snapping off and there’s very strong evidence of that,” he said.
“The pole that snapped off was supported by two steel props, so obviously there had been a problem with the pole in the past and I suppose they wanted to get a bit more life out of the pole.”
In the report released by Victoria Police today, the Garvoc fire is said to have been caused by a power pole snapping in high winds and falling onto the ground.
Electrical arcs then ignited vegetation.
The report found the Gazette fire started when a tree in a bluegum plantation fell onto powerlines.
The Camperdown-Bullen Merri fire was also started by a tree limb falling on powerlines and bringing them to the ground.
The report also found the Terang-Cobden fire was the result of powerlines clashing in high winds, causing electrical arcs and igniting the surrounding vegetation.
‘Not practical to put power lines underground’
Victoria’s emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley also confirmed the blazes were not sparked by lightning, but power assets.
He said it was simply not practical to put power lines underground.
“As long as we’ve got electrical assets above ground and we’ve got weather conditions like we’ve got, these things will challenge us,” Mr Lapsley said.
“And we know ourselves you can’t put all electrical assets underground, and even if you wanted to it would take a number of years to do so.”
Earlier this week, Powercor conceded the Garvoc fire may have started from one of its power poles.
General manager of electricity networks Steve Neave said, “Yes, I think it’s possible. It’s too early to draw a conclusion to that nature.”
Mr Neave said the pole at Garvoc had been inspected four months ago and was of “sound condition”.
“The pole has certainly come down in the extreme conditions. The wind is part of that event,” he said.
Maddens Lawyers will meet affected residents in Terang on Wednesday and plan to issue proceedings for a class action once enough evidence has been gathered.