Lawyers are investigating a potential class action over the Tathra bushfires, alleging failings by the government-owned corporation responsible for maintaining and inspecting the state’s power lines.
On Thursday, the Rural Fire Service released its early findings into the cause of the fire, which destroyed 65 houses and 35 caravans and cabins, and also damaged 48 houses.
The RFS believes the fire was probably caused by electrical infrastructure at Reedy Swamp Road.
In less than 24 hours, the law firm Slater and Gordon said it was investigating the possibility of a class action on behalf of Tathra residents.
It said it was “looking closely at whether the blaze could have been prevented”.
The firm’s practice group leader, Rory Walsh, said the adequacy of power line maintenance would be a key question in any litigation.
“The initial investigations are likely to come down to the adequacy of the power pole inspection process, which has been a central issue in many of our other bushfire cases as well as the Victorian bushfire royal commission,” Walsh said.
“We will be looking at whether Essential Energy adhered to stringent inspection and ongoing maintenance requirements, and ultimately what could have been done to prevent this bushfire.”
Essential Energy has already rejected claims that it failed to properly maintain the lines.
Its chief executive officer, John Cleland, said in a statement that inspections and maintenance were up to date and in accordance with standards. He said early investigations suggested “trees fell on to power lines during extreme weather conditions”.
The cause of the fire has prompted criticism of the funding and staff cuts at Essential Energy. The Electrical Trades Union said the loss of resources had compromised the company’s ability to properly maintain NSW’s power infrastructure.
The fire is now the subject of two inquiries, one conducted by the former police chief Mick Keelty and another by the NSW coroner’s court.
Slater and Gordon said it would be watching the outcome of the inquiries.
“This type of litigation tends to be fiercely contested by electrical infrastructure providers, but we have extensive experience and are well equipped to take on this legal battle for Tathra,” Walsh said.