Ingrid Mitchell and Deborah Naif walk through the remnants of their house on Wildlife Drive, Tathra. (ABC News: Matthew Roberts)
A bushfire in Tathra was likely caused by electrical infrastructure, investigators say, with the electrical union pointing the finger at funding cuts it says has led to a reduction in network maintenance.
The Rural Fire Service said preliminary investigations found electrical infrastructure on Reedy Swamp Road was the likely cause of the bushfire on Sunday, which wiped out 68 homes.
The Electrical Trades Union said it was not surprised at the cause, and that the State Government and national energy regulator needed to explain why they cut funding to the network.
Assistant secretary Justin Page said the union had long been concerned about a backlog of maintenance to clear bush around electrical poles.
“The Australian Energy Regulator cut the funding in the order of 40 per cent that Essential Energy are able to use for tree-trimming and clearing for powerline infrastructure,” he said.
Mr Page said the union was not trying to score political points, but wanted to remind the State Government of concerns previously raised.
“This isn’t political for us. We’ve consistently maintained over a number of years that these funding cuts will put the public safety at risk. We’ve been on record for years in saying that,” he said.
Smoke blanketed a street in Tathra, NSW, when a bushfire hit the small coastal town. (ABC News: Peta Doherty)
He said the correlation between funding cuts and fire was also seen in the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires and the Blue Mountains.
“Both of those incidents were determined it was caused by reduced maintenance on the powerline networks,” he said.
However Essential Energy issued a statement saying maintenance in the vicinity of Reedy Swap Road was up to do date.
“Preliminary internal enquiries indicate network protection equipment activated as it is designed,” it said.
“An initial review also indicates that asset and vegetation inspections and maintenance in the vicinity of Reedy Swamp Road are up to date and in accordance with prescribed standards.”
They said their initial understanding is that trees fell onto powerlines during extreme weather conditions.
Turf war allegation ‘offensive’: Government
NSW Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant visited the south coast town this afternoon, a day after announcing an independent review into the response of emergency agencies.
The Fire Brigade Employees Union has said more homes could have been saved if the Rural Fire Services accepted initial offers of help by Fire and Rescue.
But Mr Grant today reiterated he had full confidence in the state’s firefighting agencies, and said he did not believe there was any in-fighting that delayed the response.
“I have absolute and full confidence in both the agencies, I’m enormously proud of them, and as I’m driving around today, they’re in the same truck together,” he said.
“This allegation of a turf war is absurd and it’s offensive.”
A worker assesses the damage to ruined properties in Tathra after Sunday’s fire. (ABC News: Matthews Roberts)
The Minister said firefighters have told him directly they were disappointed the union “politicised the issue and pointed fingers”.
“I want to put that rumour [of a turf war] to bed,” he said.
When questioned why he was ordering a review if he did not believe there was infighting, he said it was important to ensure services were deployed in the most effective way.
“It’s incumbent on us as Government to make sure that whenever our emergency services are deployed they are deployed in the optimum way,” he said.
“[I want to] make it crystal clear and make sure that the community have the confidence that when they call for fire support they will get it, and it won’t matter what badge is on the side of the truck.”
Let’s get this town open again, locals say
Carmen Risby from the Tathra beachside caravan park evacuated her team and over 200 guests via cars, foot and boat.
The park sustained fire damage to a few cabins but was otherwise spared.
Carmen Risby says the only way she can continue to employ her staff is if tourists come and stay at her caravan park. (ABC News)
“We’re busting our guts to get the town open for everyone,” she said.
“We’re everyday Aussies that work hard, that love what we do, that love our community and we want to share it with everyone when you visit.
“Every pair of hands that’s allowed in over the next few days are going to be busy so we can get our businesses and community open again.”
Ms Risby said she had staff who had lost their homes, so the last thing they needed was to lose their jobs too.
She emphasised the need to get guests back and staying at the park so they were spending money in the community.
“We need to move on and heal and there’s only one thing that can help us do that and that is people not cancelling,” she said.
“There are so many beautiful bits of Tathra left. One hundred per cent of Tathra was not damaged and the bits that didn’t burn remain incredibly beautiful and special.
“We will stay, we will fight, and we will be stronger together. But we need everyone around Australia to help us do that.”