There were no trees left on Jill Porter’s Garvoc property after bushfires went through in March. (ABC News: Karen Percy)
An investigation into Powercor’s role in the St Patrick’s Day fires in south-west Victoria has found the electricity provider failed to identify a termite-riddled power pole that caused one of the blazes.
Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) said a fire that destroyed homes and threatened the town of Garvoc, 30 kilometres east of Warrnambool, was caused by a power pole that snapped in high winds due to decay and termite infestation.
A new report from ESV claims Powercor’s inspection regime failed to identify that the pole was compromised.
“At around 9pm (on St Patrick’s Day, 2018) the pole snapped and the high voltage conductor hit the ground and ignited vegetation,” an ESV statement read.
“The pole had a sizeable internal cavity caused by decay and termite infestation, which reduced its capacity to withstand the wind conditions.”
One of the three houses destroyed in the blaze at Gazette in March. (ABC South West Victoria: Matt Neal)
The industry safety authority is continuing to investigate the incident to determine the implications for future industry practices and whether regulatory breaches had occurred.
ESV is also continuing to examine a fire that began in Terang on St Patrick’s Day, caused by clashing powerlines.
Four other fires that began on the same day in south-west Victoria were caused by trees or branches hitting powerlines near Gazette, Minjah, Gnotuk and Laang.
ESV has ruled that in those four cases the trees that hit the powerlines were outside the minimum clearance space required by electric line clearance regulations, and it would not be investigating those incidents further.
Four class actions have been launched against Powercor by Warrnambool law firm Maddens Lawyers on behalf of those affected by the Gazette, Garvoc, Terang/Cobden, and Camperdown/Gnotuk fires.
An aerial view of Brad and Jill Porter’s property at Garvoc, in western Victoria, two months after bushfires went through on March 17. (ABC News: Karen Percy)
Maddens Lawyers class action principal Brendan Pendergast said he believed the damages caused by the fires to be in excess of $50 million.
“Powercor has acknowledged in the media that the Garvoc and Terang fires were caused by electrical assets,” he said.